Two Bills Aim to Make Attending College for Vets, Service Members Easier

Two bills sponsored by New Jersey Assembly Democrats were passed last month by the state’s General Assembly, in an effort to help New Jersey service members and veterans make their path to higher education easier.

As a veteran himself and experiencing the transition of coming home and going to college after active duty service, N.J. assembly member Bob Andrzejczak, one of the sponsors of both bills, realized that not all institutions work in favor of veterans.

“We should be taking care of our veterans when they do come home,” he said, adding that other veterans and assembly members agreed and even brought new ideas on how to help make this experience better for veterans.

The first bill, A-790 or “Combat to College Act” allows for New Jersey veterans and service members attending a public institution in the state with priority status when the course registration period occurs each semester. In order to be eligible for this bill, one would need to be an active duty military service member and a veteran who was honorably released or discharged.

“Reservists juggling college courses with uniformed service members and veterans who risked their lives for our country deserve priority registration and recognition of completed training through credits,” assembly member Raj Mukherji, one of the bill’s sponsors and a former sergeant in the U.S. Marines who served in military intelligence, said in a press release. “This common sense legislative package will help the transition of veterans to civilian life as well as help more service members attain their degrees.”

Bob AndrzejczakBob Andrzejczak

Assembly member R. Bruce Land, agreed, stating that anything that can be done to help military service members and veterans continue their education is “a smart approach.”

“They have made and continue to make sacrifices for our country and state, and it’s only right that we tweak systems like this one to be more accommodating,” he said.

The second bill, A-791, makes it mandatory for public higher education institutions in New Jersey to utilize policies that give academic credits to honorably discharged veterans who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces or a Reserve component and the National Guard.

Those who receive this benefit will be awarded a minimum of six credits and a maximum of 30 credits. The granted credits would cover Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) courses, a program that prepares students with the knowledge and required skills to become officers in the U.S. Military.

The road to turning these bills into laws is not over, however. The bills still have to be passed by the state Senate and then signed into law by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. The date at which the bills will be presented to the Senate has not yet been determined.

If enacted, both bills will apply to an eligible veteran student’s first full academic year after being implemented.

In addition, under the new acts, veterans and service members will be notified of their eligibility for the benefits through information given to state public colleges and universities from the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Higher ed counselors, advisers and liaisons will also receive the information to further guide the veterans in the right direction and inform them on what steps to take.

Since being unanimously approved by the state’s full assembly, veterans have expressed their gratitude to the assembly members for the possibility of making their home or college transition after serving our country, Andrzejczak said.

“I’ve had veterans reach out to me to thank me for still taking care of veterans coming home,” he said. “But, they’re also excited for the academic side of things as far as being able to have preference when it comes to taking classes” in addition to “receive college credits that they normally would not be receiving.”

Monica Levitan can be reached at mlevitan@diverseeducation.com. You can follow her on Twitter @monlevy_.