New state law aims to trade military experience for college credit Florida House Bill 347 requires military record review to allow for some training to count as credit
By Merabmichal Favorite
Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, Florida)
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — One Port Charlotte veteran is about a month away from receiving a master's degree thanks to a variety of college opportunities available for servicemen and women.
A new state law, House Bill 347, requires colleges to review records of former military personnel prior to their admission and allow for some of the training to count as class credit.
For Chris Jericka, the credit transfer paid off.
"I must have gotten about 15 or 20 credits just from training I received in the military," said Jericka. "That, paired with the college courses I took prior to enlisting, made earning my associate of arts degree a very fast process" en route to his advanced degree.
While some colleges have been counting military training as credit for several years, the law has prompted some to expand their programs.
"State College of Florida is happy to welcome more student veterans to campus, and wants to continue our commitment to assist our veterans in transitioning to college life and earning a degree," said MariLynn Lewry, -associate vice president of student services.
Effective in fall 2013, SCF students will be eligible to apply for up to 30 credit hours; currently, student veterans can only earn up to nine SCF credits based on their military experience.
A spokesperson from the Florida Department of Education said the law requires the military keep transcripts of all the training enlistees receive to provide a more standardized way of transferring those credits during the college application process.
Marc Laviolette, director of admissions for Florida Gulf Coast University, says the passing of HB 347 would have little to no effect on admissions.
"This is nothing new," Laviolette said. '"We have always awarded credit for military training if it met certain standards. Every year it seems there is some new legislation that comes forward but has little effect on veterans."
The regular passing of new legislation for veterans led to Jericka unknowingly applying for an outdated version of the GI Bill, which provides funding to veterans for tuition and fees for college. He spent thousands of dollars on higher education even though he qualified for a full ride.
"It was a mess," said Jericka. "In the end, I wound up having to foreclose on my home to pay for student loans. None of that would have happened if there wasn't a misunderstanding in the application process."
Before he went into the Army, Jericka attended the University of South Florida, but when money got tight and he could no longer afford tuition, he traded in his books for dog tags, hoping military benefits would fund his future. But Jericka said that a lack of local knowledge for available programs hurt his efforts.
"Most of the Veterans Administration services are unfamiliar with the programs available for young people,' he said. 'They are used to dealing with older veterans."
Supporters of HB 347 are hopeful that the bill will help unemployment rates among veterans, 17 percent of whom have trouble finding jobs after returning home, according to the Florida National Guard.
"This will give them the opportunity to come back, use the skills they learned in the military and get credit, get their certificates, move on with their lives and become employees," Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Port St. Lucie, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement.
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