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Politics

Senators Push Priority in College Admissions for Returning Veterans

October 17, 2011 - 6:00pm

When it comes to college admissions, years of military instruction should count more than a high school education, says state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton.

Bennett is renewing his push to give military veterans from Florida automatic admission to the state college of their choice if they want to pursue a math or science major.

He said that many people who opt for the military rather than college might not have had the grades or test scores needed while in high school to pursue a university degree. And, he added, military instruction should count toward their education because the experience helps them grow as an individual.

The military makes new people of these kids, it really does, said Bennett, a military veteran who brags that the service changed him from a below-average high school student.

We have so many young people who ... their first two years of college were rather young and wild and had a great time, and study wasnt what they wanted to do, who went into the military and spent four years, five years 10 years in the military and they came out a completely different person.

Educators have not jumped to support the bill.

Kelly Layman, spokeswoman for the Florida Board of Governors, said admissions policies are based on the space available at individual campuses.

Each university makes the decision about the demographics and the type of student body theyre admitting, Layman said. This would change that for the first time and only for one sector.

Bennett proposed the same bill last year but it didnt make it beyond the Higher Education Committee.

An analysis couldnt determine potential costs because it is unknown how many veterans might take advantage of the program.

Last year, 29,000 veterans were enrolled in public and private higher education in Florida: 7,047 in the 11 universities; 17,453 in the Florida College System; and 4,490 in private institutions.

The state would also have to determine if out-of-state veterans who lived in Florida four years before joining the military got to pay in-state tuition and possibly set up a program to verify the residency of each applicant.

Noting a shortage of home-grown technical students, members of the Senate Military Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee supported the concept of Bennetts bill on Tuesday.

Committee member Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, said veterans should have priority for scholarships over foreign students.

These young men and young women, when they graduated high school, when they finish with the military, they are different people, Storms said.

It may be true that when they finished high school they were not competitive internationally and didnt have the skills to compete in the university system. But thats not true when they come out of the military, Storms continued. There should be some sort of ranking that we give preferential treatment for funding for scholarships (to veterans) before we give that money to attract foreign students.

With state Republican leadership following Gov. Rick Scotts push to emphasise science, technology, engineering and math programs, better known as STEM, over liberal arts, Bennetts proposal would require veterans seeking automatic admissions to enroll in one of those fields.

To qualify, the veteran must have been a Florida resident for four years before entering the military, according to the bill.

Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, whose Senate Bill 532 would offer college credit for military instruction, said Bennetts bill, SB 404, should be packaged into a committee bill.

Some states do this, we dont, Altman said of his own proposal. Ive had friends who have gotten their M.B.A., highly accredited M.B.A. programs, and they dont have undergraduate degrees because the training they received is so great in the military.

Since university leaders have expressed some opposition to the admission proposal, noting a lack of money, Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray, said Florida should seek additional funding from the federal government that tops the GI bills for veterans.

The veterans, they serve our government overseas and the federal government needs to be our partner in this, Sachs said.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859 or (772) 215-9889.

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