The United States military is helping put UMKC students through college.
Through the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program, students can earn money via competitive scholarships or stipends that cover the cost of tuition and other educational expenses.
“They pay for my full tuition and fees, or a flat rate for living expenses,” said Noah Hutabarat, a senior chemistry major in the ROTC. “Along with this, I get $600 for books each semester and a monthly stipend of $450.”
Students in the ROTC take military science courses in addition to regular college classes, earning a degree alongside training that prepares them to lead as an officer in the United States military after they graduate. UMKC is one of many extension schools under an ROTC program hosted by Missouri Western University.
“ROTC is the largest leadership development and officer-producing program in the country,” said Lt. Col. David Snodderly, a professor of military science who helps oversee UMKC’s ROTC program.
Students in the ROTC train for physical fitness, receive instruction through lectures and participate in labs and practicums to learn military tactics. Between their sophomore and junior years, participants in the ROTC can become contracted cadets, committing to eight years of service in the U.S. military after college.
“Once my scholarship kicked in and the Army started to pay for my school, I signed, saying that I would accept that money in return for a total of eight years of service to the Army as an officer upon completion of my degree,” said Hutabarat.
Even ROTC students who aren’t awarded scholarships can earn money by contracting with the military. According to Lt. Col Snodderly, contracted cadets can earn up to $4,200 a year while in school.
Others in the ROTC decide not to contract, opting out of a post-college military commitment. This is not a loss for them, as these students still gain valuable leadership skills and life experiences while in the ROTC.
“Some students take four semesters as electives because they enjoy it, but their calling is something else,” said Snodderly. “And that’s good; we want them to take that discipline and training that they learn here and apply it to their civilian sector.”
Other students at UMKC have already served in the military, and they are now reaping the benefits of the federal government’s Post-9/11 GI Bill. The bill offers comprehensive educational benefits to veterans, including four academic years (36 months) of full tuition coverage at public undergraduate universities, monthly living stipends based on individual zip codes and additional stipends to cover other educational costs like books and supplies.
Lane Starks, a sophomore psychology major, uses the GI Bill to cover the entirety of his educational costs while at UMKC.
“Not only am I getting my school paid for, but they are also giving me money for living expenses and books,” said Starks. “Financial stress is something that nobody really wants. To have that lessened enables me to focus more on my degree and my work, which is really cool.”
Starks, 25, was in JROTC during high school, and enlisted in the Air Force after graduating. He said for someone like himself, who wasn’t sure what he wanted to do after high school, the military was a great option, ensuring that he learned a practical skill and gained helpful life experiences while serving his country.
“I loved the military,” said Starks. “At least you know if you do this, you won’t be wasting four years of your life. You’re still going to be building your character, building yourself while getting steady income, and then after that you will be better set up. It’s a good option.”
Starks served in the Air Force for four years, from 2014 to 2018, stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base in Johnson County, Missouri. Near the end of his service, he was deployed to Qatar for six months. He expressed that without his service, he wouldn’t be able to pay for college.
“Honestly, for me, I don’t think I could see myself going the school route without the military paying for it,” said Starks. “I would have just been another person out here working jobs and trying to climb that ladder.”