Veterans who want college credit for their training and experience in the military will have an easier time getting it under new legislation.
The Utah House passed HB 254 earlier in the session and the Senate unanimously approved it on Friday. It is returning to the House for approval of a Senate amendment, and then likely will go for the governor's signature.
The bill requires the state's colleges, universities and applied technical schools to give credit for classes or experience if it's recommended by the Board of Regents, the Utah College of Applied Technology Board of Trustees or a post-secondary accreditation agency.
The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, and Senate President Peter Knudson, the two co-chairs of a task force that has been studying how Utah can better help veterans reintegrate into society.
"This bill gives a helping hand to those who have put their lives on the line for the country," Knudson told his colleagues. "It's starting him or her off on the right foot in college."
The state's institutions already give credit to veterans, but not nearly as much as for-profit schools, and some institutions are reluctant to give more than physical education credits.
One key feature of the bill is that veterans will have to sit down with a counselor at the school to determine which credits make sense for the school to accept.
"From day one they'll have a sense of what credit they will get," said Pam Silberman, communications director of the Board of Regents. "It's tightening it up to make sure the process moves more smoothly."
Terry Schow, executive director of the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs, called the bill a "step in the right direction." But he added: "Time will tell if this turns out being what we hope it will be. Some colleges are doing it and being generous and others aren't."
Darlene Head, manager of the Salt Lake Community College Veterans Center, said the bill is a good idea, but will have to be carefully implemented.
Each school should thoroughly train one or two counselors, to ensure veterans don't find themselves with too many credits that don't apply to their field of study.
Financial aid is not available beyond a certain number of credits, and veterans' education benefits can be used only for required courses, she noted.
It makes more sense to grant credit for some training such as for a medic or mechanic than for others. For instance, a communications specialist in the Army does not study the same things as a college communications major.
"I absolutely value the service and training they receive in the military," Head said. "But if we blanket transfer things in, I'm worried the student will miss valuable information that will help them in their jobs."