The Associated Press
DAYTON, Ohio - Scholarships for members of the Ohio National Guard are being threatened by a budget crunch that's already forcing the tuition fund to cancel payments for summer sessions this year.
Tuition increases have overtaxed the program that guarantees a free ride at Ohio public colleges for airmen and soldiers who sign up to serve for six years.
"If we have to continue to make decisions which impact folks' ability to participate, sure, it will obviously impact our ability to attract and retain soldiers. We just won't be able to do it," said retired Brig. Gen. Stephen Koper, a spokesman for the Ohio National Guard.
"There is nothing else that we could offer that could come anywhere close to that. It is our single best recruiting and retention tool."
According to the Ohio Board of Regents, tuition and fees increased an average of 11.4 percent for the current academic year at the main campuses for Ohio's four-year universities.
About 2,500 guardsmen took advantage of the scholarship program last fall, the last period for which figures are available.
The Legislature increased the Guard's budget by 10 percent for fiscal years 2004 and 2005 over fiscal year 2003, but the increase doesn't keep pace with the rising cost of tuition.
The Guard put $13.2 million into the scholarship fund for fiscal year 2004 that ends June 30 and $14.6 million in for fiscal year 2005. However, the Ohio National Guard Association said the Guard will need an extra $3.5 million in the scholarship fund if tuition increases an average of 10 percent each year.
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