WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 15th, 2015) -- $33,000. That is how much The Wall Street Journal reports the average 2014 college graduate owes in student debt. As the cost of secondary education continues to rise, the Army Emergency Relief program has awarded 4,285 Army children and spouses with more than $9.3 million in college scholarships.

Since 1976, the Army Emergency Relief program, or AER, - a private nonprofit organization dedicated to providing financial assistance to Soldiers, active and retired, and their Families - has selected an increasing number of Army dependents and spouses for tuition assistance from the Maj. Gen. James Ursano Scholarship and the Spouse Education Assistance Program, or SEAP.

Approximately 3,201 children have received the Ursano Scholarship, and 1,084 spouses have received assistance from SEAP for the 2015-2016 academic year.

"We received a total of 7,475 applications [this year]," said Tammy LaCroix, supervisor for AER's scholarship programs. "Of those who completed the application process and provided the required documentation, 84 percent received a scholarship award."

Children of retired and active-duty Soldiers received anywhere from the median scholarship of $2,348, to the maximum award of $3,300. Scholarships for spouses ranged from $1,700 to $2,200, and are applicable for up to four years of full-time enrollment (12 credit hours per semester) or eight semesters for part-time students (six credits per semester). Dependents are eligible for aid through the semester preceding their 23rd birthday.

All recipients are selected solely on financial need as determined by the Free Application for Student Aid, or FAFSA. Using an applicant's Student Aid Report, the AER analyzes its annual budget to determine the percentage of a student's total cost of attendance minus the estimated Family contribution, which it can award in scholarships. This year, 12 percent of the gap between cost and expected contribution was covered.

Funding for the scholarships is derived from donations as well as interest from invested funds the organization earmarks each year. The awards are renewable as long as students maintain a 2.0 GPA and current financial need.

With average total costs per academic year reported by The College Board to be between $10,000 and $30,000, the AER's scholarships augment the price of room and board, tuition and books to better allow Army Families to pursue their education objectives.

"These scholarships help a lot of our students to even be able to attend school," LaCroix said. "We get letters from students all the time telling us what a difference this has made for them."

Among those letters was one from Barbara Walker, whose three children all received the Ursano Scholarship.

"Both my daughters were able to graduate with their bachelor's degrees debt-free from the University of Louisville with the help of [the Ursano Scholarship]," Walker said.

Since its incorporation in 1942, AER has provided more than $1.6 billion to over 3.6 million Soldiers, Families and retirees.