Senate bill proposing low-cost higher education classes for veterans gains early approval

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ST. GEORGE — A proposal to make higher education courses available to Utah’s veterans without tuition expenses has received an early nod of approval at the Legislature.  

Stock image | Photo by
seb_ra/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Introduced by Sen. Todd D. Weiler, R-Woods Cross, Higher Education Classes for Veterans would allow Utah residents who have served in the armed forces to audit classes at state institutions of higher learning. A panel of lawmakers on the Senate Education Committee gave the bill a favorable recommendation Wednesday, with a 7-0 vote. It then moved to the Senate floor, with a 29-0 vote.

The proposed bill, designated as SB 45 in the 2021 Legislature, grants eligibility to veterans to enroll in regularly scheduled college and university classes when surplus space is available. They would be exempt from tuition and other costs, with the exception of a nominal registration fee. Courses are not matriculated, and the participating veterans would not receive college credit. 

Currently, Utah residents age 62 and over may audit college and university courses without paying tuition or receiving credit. SB 45 seeks to amend section 53B-9-101 of the Utah Code, enacted in 1987, which grants access to higher education classes for “senior citizens who generally find themselves with more time for learning but with less funds for such purposes” to include veterans as well. 

SB 45 was drafted by the 2020 legislative Veterans and Military Affairs Commission, of which Weiler served as co-chair. Weiler told St. George News he is confident the bill will be supported in both chambers and land on the governor’s desk.

Senate Majority Leader and Cedar City resident Evan Vickers called the legislation “an excellent idea.”

“Hopefully it would allow veterans to broaden their knowledge,” he said. 

Rep. Travis M. Seegmiller, R-St. George, said that he views SB 45 as a way to provide Washington County veterans with valuable educational opportunities by optimizing existing state resources rather than spending additional tax dollars.  

“The state will not incur any new expenses, but yet the available extra capacity in our classrooms would now be available to our veterans to continue their learning at no additional cost,” he said. “This fits exactly into my highest priorities of optimizing the use of every cent of taxpayer money – in this case, by filling up the empty seats in our state-owned universities with qualified veterans who are hungry to learn and progress.” 

According to the legislative fiscal note, there would be no financial impact to the state budget from SB 45.

Steven Roberts, director of veteran and military services at Dixie State University, said he has already had veterans come in asking about the program.

“So I know there’s interest out there in the community,” he said. 

About 200 current and former service members currently attend DSU, Roberts said. They range in age and interest from active duty National Guardsmen working towards a degree to retired Vietnam-era veterans seeking to increase their knowledge for personal enrichment. 

Roberts said he envisions the proposed program being of most benefit to veterans already in the civilian workforce that are looking to gain job skills and further their careers. 

“For those who want to continue their education and don’t need a degree, this is an excellent program,” he said.

SB45 will next move to the Utah House for its first reading.

For a complete list of contacts for Southern Utah representatives and senators, click here.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2021 Utah Legislature here.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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