By Van Arnold
University of Southern Mississippi
“This is almost too much to be true.” Such is a sentiment expressed recently by an active-duty soldier to Maj. Gen. (ret.) Jeff Hammond, Director of the Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families at The University of Southern Mississippi.
The soldier was exalting the TA Gap Funding program announced by the University earlier this year. The innovative program helps service members cover the “gap” between federal tuition assistance and remaining course tuition for TA-approved hours. The program is set to begin for the Fall 2023 semester and Hammond says that the response has been exceptional.
“We are off to a great start,” said Hammond. “I would consider this to be the ‘outreach phase’ of the program with plans to make every effort in ensuring service members have awareness of this unique opportunity for a no-cost higher education tuition experience.”
With TA Gap Funding, service members can be fully covered for 15-18 credit hours per fiscal year depending on the branch of service. The innovative program greatly enhances academic opportunities for Mississippi National Guard soldiers, enabling them to complete their degrees with no tuition costs to achieve greater success in their chosen civilian and military careers.
Hammond recalled that the soldier further noted, ‘What you all are doing is amazing because in the end I will not have to spend a single penny for my degree.”
“This type of response tells me we are onto something special that, in the end, not only benefits the service member who voluntarily serves for our freedom, but possibly more importantly, honors their care for the protection of our rights to an education,” said Hammond.
Hammond points out that USM continues to lead public universities across Mississippi in TA enrollment with military members enrolled in a total of 158 courses. He emphasizes that much work remains to be done in the coming months to communicate the program’s benefits and sustain existing momentum.
“A lot of energy is emerging as our service members catch wind of this program, which is truly designed with their higher education interests foremost,” said Hammond.
Once eligible military students are approved for federal tuition assistance, the next step is contacting the Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started. USM will help students through the process of applying for TA Gap Funding.