Today’s Navy families value education

Navy wife, mother and college student Michelle Subbert reads to her children. Pictured from left are Trey, Kailyn, Michelle, Tylar Belle, Hallie, and Courtnee. The family’s dog, Shadow, also listens to the story. COURTESY PHOTO

Today’s Navy is one of the best educated in history. Sailors and family members alike are pursing higher education as never before.

That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news: looming budget battles may alter that positive trend. Many service members depend on funding to meet their college costs. The impact of Continuing Resolution could well extend to the military’s college financial aid programs.

Just ask Oak Harbor resident Michelle Subbert, a Navy wife and mom.

She is pursuing a history degree from Columbia College on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. In January 2010, a popular tuition assistance program for military spouses shut down mid-month, in part due to its popularity.

“There was such great interest in the program,” she said. “Thousands of people tried to sign up, and there just wasn’t the funding to support it.”

The shutdown affected many would-be participants. As a result, Subbert had to put her own college plans on hold for a while. “We simply could not afford to come up with the $400 per-class, out-of-pocket cost,” said the mother of five.

Military members and civilians alike attend classes on NAS Whidbey Island.

Students have access to a diverse spectrum of degree and non-degree offerings, including a wide range of the arts, sciences, and trades. A fair number of these students look to some type of tuition assistance to meet their college funding needs.

All is not lost for prospective degree-seekers, however. Even if money allocated for military tuition assistance is reduced, students will be encouraged to apply for other funding sources, including scholarships and other educational awards like Pell grants.

That is exactly what Subbert is doing.

This semester, she qualified for full Pell grant funding so long as she attended classes fulltime, putting her educational goals well within striking distance.

Wherever government funding exists for any program, there remains the question, “Is this really necessary?”

Yet Subbert and many others view educational assistance as more than just a fringe benefit for military personnel.

“Education is quality of life and more, because it better equips us to serve our families and community,” she said. “Long-term separations are a reality of Navy family life, but it goes beyond that. Even when my husband is here, he often has duty or shift requirements that keep him from watching our kids while I’m in class. That means paying for childcare, another out-of-pocket expense.”

During her husband’s deployments, Subbert stays busy with her classes, and more importantly to her, raising and educating their five children.

She has an avid interest in geneology and other subjects. She looks forward to graduating from Columbia College in December.

Incidentally, her husband, Kevin, is currently earning his bachelor’s degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, also on base.

This story is the first of two parts. Next week: a closer look at local Navy family college opportunities.