State Senate bill in progress for easier veteran transfers

Vet firing rifle:Matthew Ceccato, senior international communications major, fires an AKM assault rifle while on duty in Iraq.:Courtesy Photo

Vet firing rifle:Matthew Ceccato, senior international communications major, fires an AKM assault rifle while on duty in Iraq.:Courtesy Photo

Matt Harrington

The California Senate is considering legislation that could make it easier for members of the armed services to transfer from California Community Colleges to the California State University.

Senate Bill 1440, authored by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-San Fernando Valley, seeks to simplify the admissions process for veterans attending community colleges and who are preparing to transfer to a CSU institution. 

Along with SB 1440, the senator also authored SB 292, a bill that clarifies the language of SB 1440 while it is still in committee.

SB 1440 will establish the Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act or STAR. The STAR Act will prohibit a community college from adding extra courses onto the students Associates degree requirements prior to graduation and transfer to a four-year institution. It also prohibits the four-year institution from making the transfer student retake courses of similar structure that had been taken at the community college.

Veterans wishing to enroll at Sacramento State do not have to go through the process of admittance to the campus alone. There are several individuals and offices located on campus that are dedicated to the special needs of the veterans.

Director of Veteran Services Jeff Weston, a veteran and graduate of Sac State, said this legislation is needed because veterans carry with them their whole learning experience.

“What it comes down to is, as veterans we attend several different colleges over the span of our enlistment. I know when I graduated from Sac State, I entered the college with at least six different sets of transcripts,” Weston said. “Some of that information gets lost in the constant moving.”

He said the divide between institutions had to be filled.

“So when a veteran enters a new community college, their credits are evaluated differently each time. Then one more time as they enter the CSU,” Weston said. “The gap needs to be bridged between the community colleges and the CSU’s as the veteran leaves active duty and enters an institution of higher learning. This bill will help to connect the dots.”

To help bridge that gap, veterans have access to several different services that cater to their needs.

The Admissions and Outreach Office, located on the third floor of Lassen Hall, houses the office of Veterans Benefits and adviser Lindsey Wathen. Wathen said veterans who come to see her need help figuring out a new system.

“When a veteran first separates from the military, they often have to navigate obstacles as they try to enroll in school. Particularly at a public university such as ours, that requires students to gain admission and approval to attend first,” Wathen said. “They have to apprise themselves of the process for entry to the college. And if they are just getting out of the service, that is not always easy because they have to learn a new system.”

She said being able to pay for school is one of those obstacles a veteran will encounter.

“If they need financial aid and they are claiming last year’s taxable income, and if they have been in the service, the veteran may have made enough money to not qualify for the aid,” Wathen said. “Also they may not be aware of what they could qualify for and may not apply for it.”

Citing her own experience as a member of the military, Wathen said it comes down to not knowing eligibility.

“I did not apply for financial aid for the first couple of years I was in school because I just didn’t know what I would qualify for,” Wathen said. “Also veterans are not aware that their GI Bill does not affect their taxable income or their financial aid.”

In a letter provided by the senator’s office, Padilla acknowledges that SB 1440 may have elements within its wording that warrant clarification. The senator’s press deputy and legislative aide, Taryn Kinney, said SB 292 helps that issue along.

“SB 292 is currently a clarifying bill. Our office is keeping the bill moving through the legislative process as we monitor the SB 1440 implementation task forces progress,” Kinney said. “We want to make sure that there is a living bill that we can use if at any point we find that the legislation is needed to correct any unforeseen problems.”

The issue with the language in SB 1440 is directly related to the language in the education code that it may affect. Under the current education code, veterans are given special consideration during the admissions process.

Sections of the Education Code explain who is given priority during the registration process. According to Section 66202, “residents of California who are recently released veterans of the armed forces of the United States.” After veterans, admission then goes to transfer students and three other categories.

The code also states that veterans who in good standing at their institution and who had to return to active duty prior to finishing a semester are allowed re-entry without penalty. They will also be considered first over a veteran who was just released from active duty. 

Padilla gave further clarification on the matter in the letter and said his bill will not change current laws on the books; it will only enhance what is already there.

Another office located in Lassen that helps veterans navigate Sac State is the office of Veterans Services. As part of the office’s services, they run the Veterans Success Center, which provides assistance to prospective and enrolled student veterans and their dependents. 

Weston said the programs available for veterans on Sac State’s campus are among the best in the area.

“On average, veterans at Sac State are probably treated as well or better than most campuses in the state. We have tremendous resources compared to many of the local community colleges and state schools,” Weston said. “In addition to our office, the campus also has a separate certifying official that only deals with admitting veterans to campus.”

One student who made the transition from active military to college student was Daniel Pauley. A junior government major who was active in the Marine Corps for four years and is now a member of the Army National Guard and the campus’ Reserve Officers Training Corps.

He said the government made it possible for him to be a student.

“For me the transition to a four year institution was pretty smooth. Fortunately, in my last year of active duty in the Marines, I had some extra home station time and was able to take some online courses,” Pauley said. “The military pays 100 percent of tuition, up to $7,500 per year, so I was able to get a jumpstart on school which made the transition to a community college a lot easier.”

Pauley said he was a self-starter when it came to making the transition to college life and encourages others to do the same.

“I do know a few people that have had problems making the transition from active duty to civilian life. Both of my brothers were active military and are now struggling to establish themselves,” Pauley said. “The biggest thing I can suggest to someone is do your own research. Because I did my own research, I didn’t have to rely on a lot of people.”