New legislation gives Utah veterans access to tuition-free higher education classes

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

ST. GEORGE — Utah veterans will soon gain access to low-cost courses at colleges and universities statewide as a result of newly passed legislation. 

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

Higher Education Classes for Veterans, designated as SB 45 in the 2021 Legislature, enables Utah residents who have served in the armed forces to audit classes at state institutions of higher learning. On Wednesday, the bill passed the House floor with a vote of 72-0-3 and now moves to the governor’s office to be signed into law. 

Introduced by Sen. Todd D. Weiler, R-Woods Cross, the bill grants eligibility to veterans to enroll in regularly scheduled college and university classes when surplus space is available. With the exception of a nominal registration fee, classes will be exempt from tuition and other costs. Courses are not matriculated, and the participating veterans will 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 will 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 sponsored in the House by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, who served as co-chair of the 2020 legislative Veterans and Military Affairs Commission alongside Weiler. Ray told St. George News that the bill was drafted by the commission in response to appeals for more educational opportunities from Utah veterans. 

We’ve had a big request for them to do that, so we’re just making that opportunity available,” he said. 

During a meeting of the House Education Committee on Jan. 29, Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, thanked Ray for sponsoring SB 45 and said that as an educator, she is “100% supportive” of the effort. 

“The seniors that I’ve had in my class have brought in so much rich life experiences and have just been wonderful students, and anything that we can do to enrich the education of all of our residents, and especially our valued veterans, I’m just all for it,” she said. 

Rep. Dan N. Johnson, R-Logan, who said he has many veterans in his family, also expressed gratitude to Ray for presenting the bill. 

Marti Bigbie, commander of the American Legion Department of Utah and Post 90 in St. George, told St. George News she is pleased to see this legislation being passed.  

I think it’s great for the younger veterans, and some of the older ones, that would like to attend classes,” she said. “It’s another step forward to helping our veterans.” 

However, Bigbie said there is a demonstrated need in the community for affordable access to classes at technical institutions, which would be of greater benefit to veterans currently in the workforce, adding that she hopes the legislature will figure out a way to support veterans wishing to pursue that route as well. 

SB 45 received unanimous support in both the Senate and House. According to the legislative fiscal note, there will be no financial impact to the state budget as a result of enacting the bill. 

“This is just Utah’s way to say thank you to our veterans for serving,” Ray said. 

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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