MSU, National Guard announce Bulldog Free Tuition Program

Maj. Gen. Janson D. “Durr” Boyles, Adjutant General of Mississippi, and Mississippi State University President Mark E. Keenum celebrate after signing a memorandum of agreement between MSU and the Mississippi National Guard to establish the Bulldog Free Tuition Program. (Courtesy photo)

Staff Writer

Mississippi State University and the Mississippi National Guard announced a new program Tuesday that will ensure free tuition for Mississippi National Guard service members enrolled full-time at MSU.

MSU President Mark E. Keenum and Maj. Gen. Janson D. “Durr” Boyles, Adjutant General of Mississippi, both signed a memorandum of agreement establishing the Bulldog Free Tuition program during a ceremony at MSU’s G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans at Nusz Hall.

MSU Center for America's Veterans Director Bryan Locke said the program will go into effect for students in the National Guard in time for the new fall semester for those who meet the criteria.

To be eligible for the Bulldog Free Tuition program, service members must be full-time undergraduate students, in good standing with their unit and cannot be within a year of their expiration of term of service.

“Readiness is our force’s top priority and this tuition program will help to attract personnel who will staff our future state and federal missions,” Boyles said. “The students receiving this tuition benefit will contribute tremendously towards our preparedness and be among those ready to answer the call during state emergencies and overseas contingency operations.”

Locke said MSU is the only institute of higher learning in the state that offers this program, which allows students in the National Guard another option to pay for their education.

“We have a long, proud history as one of the nation’s most military-friendly college campuses,” Keenum said. “Among our alumni are the late U.S. Sen. John C. Stennis, father of the modern nuclear Navy, and the late U.S. Rep. G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery, author of the modern G.I. Bill. This innovative tuition program we launch today with the Mississippi National Guard continues MSU’s pro-soldier legacy and directly invests in those brave, bright men and women who serve and protect our great nation.”

Over 12,000 service members are in the Mississippi Army and Air National Guard’s ranks. For the Guard, higher education is a critical component of efforts to improve service members’ ability to solve complex problems at home and abroad.

While the National Guard has a beneficial tuition program for eligible service members at all Mississippi colleges and universities, MSU support through the Bulldog Free Tuition program will make MSU the only state university where Mississippi National Guard soldiers can attend college without paying tuition.

Through its Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans and university faculty and staff, MSU supports National Guard service members as they navigate classes, basic training, drill and deployments.

Approximately 650 U.S. Armed Forces veterans and service members attendMSU, a population that increases to more than 2,600 when including dependents.

MSU is nationally recognized for its support of veterans, service members and their dependents. In 2015, MSU was designated as a “Purple Heart University” by the Military Order of the Purple Heart for its support of the military community.

Locke said MSU was also fortunate to give out $70,000 in scholarships this year.

"We are unique in the fact that we have the financial ability out of our office here to give that money to our student veterans because of some very generous donors," Locke said. Locke said MSU also offers an out-of-state waiver, allowing currently serving military members, veterans or dependents of honorably discharged veterans to attend MSU on in-state tuition regardless of where they live in the country.

Locke said the G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery Center for America's Veterans is a "one stop shop" for student veterans, including help with VA benefits and a dedicated facility with a computer lab, private study rooms, kitchenette, lounge outdoor patio space and grills.

The Mississippi National Guard is a relevant and ready force that stands ready to deploy for any contingency in Mississippi and overseas. Since 9/11, the force has one Silver Star recipient and approximately 1,400 Bronze Stars have been awarded to its Soldiers and Airmen.

"To me, it’s an honor to be able to do this," Locke said. "I spent my whole adult life in the military, so to be able to retire from the military but still be able to give back to our young service members and veterans is an honor. Also being able to watch them continue on in their education, especially those who may not have otherwise been financially able to go to college, this gives them to opportunity to live the dream that everyone wants to live."