Giving veterans a break in earning degrees

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Many of the men and women who risk their lives for our country are also students pursuing their college education.  They are tasked with the challenge of balancing military service with their academic and family lives. 

Students in the military can have a difficult time maintaining continuous enrollment because of the unpredictable nature of their careers. During deployments, these individuals are temporarily unable to continue their education and must have their absence approved by the institution they are attending. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be an unnecessary burden on students if they have had to leave school to serve on a military assignment.

Historically, the California State University system has allowed active duty students two years of accumulated approved absence before the student must start the enrollment process all over again. However, two years is not enough time, considering a single deployment can last 9-15 months and soldiers are often called up for multiple tours of duty.  Time away from their education can be stressful on its own, let alone bureaucratic obstacles that can get in the way of making it to graduation.

The federal government has already expanded its policy to allow students five years of accumulated absence due to military service to accommodate for the duration of deployments and the possibility of multiple tours. That is why I felt it necessary to help our veterans by introducing Senate Bill 418. I am proud to report that it was recently signed into law by the governor. SB 418 makes sure that all CSU campuses are up-to-date with this federal policy; we do not want any campus to fall through the cracks. This necessary and prudent change to the law protects the rights of those in our Armed Forces.

As of 2013, there were over 110,000 veterans receiving education benefits in California. SB 418 ensures that those who have served in recent conflicts or in other months-long capacities will have more time to finish their degrees as they pursue career paths here at home.

We should offer our soldiers the benefit of continuous enrollment when we ask them to put their coursework on hold to defend our nation. There is no nobler act than to willingly lay down your life for your countrymen. These men and women should not face a restrictive administrative hurdle when they are trying to complete their education.  After all, they are the ones creating a better future for us and our children; they should be able to shape theirs. 

Abraham Lincoln governed our nation during one of the most difficult periods of our history. Throughout it all, he continually reminded Americans to recognize the service of those in uniform saying, “Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country's cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.” With the privilege to provide access higher education for our veterans, colleges are endowed with the propensity to honor our service members and their sacrifices.

America is a land in which education opens innumerable doors and is a dream sought after by many. Our brave men and women deserve every opportunity to pursue their dreams.  SB 418 is one small step towards protecting our military students’ access to education, much as they have protected our country. 

Senator Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, represents the 23rd District in the State Senate which includes portions of Riverside, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles counties.