'So many pathways': Military recruiters tout broader opportunities to get a college education -- even through part-time military service

Jan. 14—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — When Andrew Folmar was graduating from Cambria Heights High School in 1995, his sights were set on college, he said.

But his bank account wasn't.

"I joined the U.S. Army Reserves, and I ended up loving it," said Folmar, who is now a sergeant first class with the Army Reserves. "I paid $90 to get my degree in business administration."

Today, Folmar shares that story as a recruiter for the reserves at a point when more teens need to hear it, he said.

There are more military scholarships — and unique ways to obtain them through military service — than ever before.

But hundreds aren't being utilized across the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, he added.

Some programs don't even require volunteers to take basic training — including the Minuteman Campaign — or serve on overseas deployments. But informing high school students about the programs has become increasingly difficult, Folmar said.

'To open doors'

State Rep. Jim Rigby, R-Ferndale, gathered recruitment personnel from all four military branches with guidance counselors and administrators from a handful of area high schools Thursday for an information- sharing session at Pennsylvania Highlands Community College.

"The idea behind this (was) to open doors," Rigby said, "and also open a dialogue between recruiters and our schools."

He noted that many believe getting a scholarship from the military requires a full-time military commitment.

That's not the case, recruiters told counselors Thursday.

The Army Reserve Minuteman Scholarship, introduced a decade ago, is one alternate example — and college serves as part of the training, Folmar said.

Students must have a 3.2 GPA or better in high school and a minimum of a 1200 SAT score, and then can go straight into any Reserve Officers Training Corps-partner college and degree program.

That includes those offered at the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and others. Students would then dedicate one weekend a month and two weeks of their summer to reserve duty in their regions.

"You don't have to leave your local area to do this," Folmar said. "It's a part-time job that pays for your tuition, book costs ... and fees."

Enlistees' educations — in the degree paths they choose — prepare them to become Reserve officers. After graduating, they continue serving the remainder of a 10-year commitment through continued duties one weekend a month and two weeks over the summer.

'To get degrees'

Fellow recruiters from the U.S. Navy, Air Force and National Guard also shared details about other programs, including ROTC — which all branches offer — military academy training and the Navy's Nurse Corps, which enables nurses in a broad range of specialties to get valuable training through the branch's healthcare facilities, ships and research units.

"We want people to go to college. We want them to get degrees when they leave," said Navy Petty Officer Christopher Capps, who has worked as a recruiter at The Johnstown Galleria since 2020.

He said the Navy does whatever it takes to support its service members — even those who might be sailing half a world away from their campuses. Satellite links enable online classes and professors have even been flown to students in the service to allow courses to continue.

For those who want to head straight to work, the service can be on-the-job training that leads to better jobs, they added.

"Yes, there's a commitment with pretty much everything we offer," Folmar said, "but everything in life is that way."

Conemaugh Township High School counselor Kara Duplin said the gathering was valuable and enlightening.

Duplin said it's common for Conemaugh Township students to choose the military after high school, but the vast number of programs the armed services offer can make that even more enticing for them — or even those who weren't thinking about it.

Many teens want to go to college, but even for those who are qualified, the high cost can put it out of reach, she said.

"For me being a first-year guidance counselor, this (event) was very convenient," Duplin said. "There are so many pathways to serve and receive an education ... and this enables me (to share it)."

Folmar urged counselors to educate teens earlier about the programs, because the screening process is far more detailed than it was decades ago — delving further into health backgrounds and even character or "moral" checks.

"You can't just graduate from high school and sort of fall into the service," he said.

"It's not for everybody, and even if you qualify, it might take a year of (paperwork) to go through."