CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It pays to be a member of the Army National Guard at the University of Charleston --$19,500, to be exact. Thanks to a new scholarship from UC, members of the National Guard can attend the Charleston private college without paying a dime. Stephanie Nichols, an Army National Guard member and UC sophomore, is one of many students that UC officials hope take advantage of the school's varied attempts at making college more affordable. "I used to go to West Virginia State and I wouldn't have gone to UC without this scholarship," said Nichols, from Cross Lanes. "It definitely helped out a lot financially."In January, UC unveiled the new program, called the Golden Eagle Scholarship. It will provide $9,000 per year in tuition assistance for active members of the West Virginia Army National Guard and Air National Guard. The state also provides a $6,000 educational stipend to National Guard members. In addition, the federal government provides $4,500 per year in tuition assistance to active members of the Army National Guard."The self-discipline and responsibility required to be a member of the armed forces gives these students a great foundation for success in college," UC President Ed Welch said in January. "This is our way of opening the doors wide to the men and women who serve our country in the National Guard."Money was tight in Nichols' family, so a drastic cut in tuition and expanded scholarship opportunities at the University of Charleston allowed her to pursue her dream of becoming a military nurse.
"Service runs in my family, so I knew it was something I wanted to do," she said.Nichols, who just turned 20, started college at West Virginia University and then entered into 19 weeks of basic combat training in Missouri. When she finished the training, she started at West Virginia State University and then transferred to the University of Charleston this semester after being informed by WVSU's ROTC program about UC's new scholarship.Nichols takes her normal classes in Charleston and travels to a National Guard unit in Gassaway once a month for drill training, where she practices at the shooting range, inspects vehicles to make sure they're working properly and participates in field training exercises.UC officials hope Nichols is not the only one who will take advantage of the school's cost-cutting admission measures.Last year, UC announced that beginning in the fall 2012 semester, no undergraduate student at UC will pay more than $19,500 in annual tuition and fees."We're going to do this because for too long, college was out of reach for middle-class families," said Welch. "We are taking bold steps to ensure that we continue to meet the needs of students."Like most colleges around the country, UC has seen a decline in the number of students who pay full tuition. The 2011 school year was the first time that no students at UC paid the full $25,000 sticker price. 99 percent of students at UC receive institutional aid and 38 percent receive federal aid, said UC spokesman Scott Castleman.
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