SPOKANE, Wash. – On a rainy Friday, Kerry Clark rode his bike to the Donut Parade in north Spokane. He rarely drives. Too expensive.
Clark has four roommates. He survives on financial aid and military benefits. The aid is through Washington State University, where he’s an online student.
“I view studying as a job,” he said. “Just like any job, I want to do well at it.” Clark couldn’t do any better. He has a 4.0 grade point average and made the president’s honor roll.
GI Bill helps dependents
pursue higher education
Nearly 800 Washington State University students receive GI Bill benefits, said Matthew Zimmerman, WSU veterans coordinator.
About 105 are in the Dependents Education Assistance Program (Chapter 35), which provides benefits for dependents of military members who died on active duty or are 100 percent disabled as a result of military service. This benefit is $936 per month paid directly to the student.
“The GI Bill programs and waivers provide motivated students like Kerry Clark career options that would have otherwise not been available,” Zimmerman said. “Having spoken to Kerry on the phone numerous times, it is clear that he is an upbeat and focused young man who is worthy of this investment of public funds.”
The state of Washington also requires four-year public institutions to waive tuition for dependents of resident veterans who are 100 percent disabled, killed in action, missing in action or prisoners of war. Veterans must be honorably discharged and have served during a period of conflict.
Another option is the Fry Scholarship. In addition to paying tuition and fees, the scholarship provides up to $1,000 per year for books plus a monthly housing allowance.
Online students don’t receive a housing allowance under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, but that changes Aug. 1, Zimmerman said. Students taking only online courses will receive a housing allowance based on 50 percent of the national average or $672 per month.
The military benefits came after his mother, a Navy reservist, was killed in 2005 near Fallujah, Iraq.
Petty Officer 1st Class Regina Clark of Centralia was a mess hall cook in her first two deployments. In her third, she did checkpoint searches. A suicide bomber attacked her convoy.
Clark, a single mom, was the first Washington state woman killed in the Iraq war. Her son was 18.
“The day I no longer had a parental guardian was the day I really started paying attention,” said Clark, 25. “I had to be responsible for absolutely everything in my own life. That makes you aware of how to win – and how to lose.”
One way to lose is to stick with an unchallenging job. When Clark worked at a lumber mill, he said, “I felt restricted, like any abilities I might have couldn’t come to the forefront because I didn’t have the necessary education.”
Clark earned his associate’s degree at Centralia College, moved to Spokane with friends and enrolled in WSU Online.
“People assume online courses are more work,” he said. “For me, it’s more work to have to wake up at 8 a.m. every day to get to class than to roll out of bed and start doing schoolwork.”
Clark is majoring in humanities with a minor in history. He expects to graduate in December, then earn a graduate degree in history.
“When I see Ph.D.s now, I think they’re a hundred times smarter than I am. But they had to get there somehow,” he said. “I won’t stop studying until someone gives me an F – and that isn’t going to happen.”
Clark also is motivated by the people of Centralia. At Fuller’s Market, where his mother used to work, employees still wear buttons with her photo.
“They seem to miss her as much as I do,” he said. “You can see the difference she made. Hopefully I can do something like that in my own life.”