In an effort to help service members who are called to fulfill their military obligations in the middle of a school year, Assembly Democrats Nancy Pinkin, Wayne DeAngelo and Joe Danielsen sponsor a bill that would expand the rights afforded to college students who encounter these situations. The legislation was advanced by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Monday.
Current state law provides students with certain educational rights if they are unable to complete a course at a public institution of higher education because they are mobilized for active duty as a member of the National Guard or a Reserve component of the Armed Forces.
Under the bill (A-3807), eligibility is expanded to all service members who are unable to complete a course due to deployment, mobilization, reassignment or other military obligations, such as mandatory education and training. Service members are defined as individuals serving on active duty as a member of the Armed Forces, a Reserve component of the Armed Forces or the National Guard.
Those students are eligible to choose one of the following options if they are called away after completing at least eight weeks of a course – withdraw from the course or receive a letter grade, a pass/fail grade, or an incomplete grade. If they have completed less than eight weeks, they can either receive an incomplete grade or withdraw from the course altogether.
“Our military members have to put their plans on hold when they are called to duty in service of this country,” said Assemblywoman Pinkin (D-Middlesex). “We should honor their personal sacrifice by making sure the education they received before leaving to fulfill their military responsibilities was not in vain, by allowing them to receive an applicable grade or pick up where they left off upon their return.”
The legislation clarifies certain stipulations, such as that the student can only receive a letter grade or pass/fail grade if the teacher believes the student has completed sufficient work and made progress toward meeting the requirements of the course. An incomplete grade would remain valid for one year after the student returns to the school while a pass/fail grade could be converted to a letter grade if the student completes the remaining coursework within one year of returning to the school.
The legislation also mandates that an eligible student who withdraws from their course must receive a full refund of the tuition and fees associated with that course. Room, board and other university fees for services the student does not use during the time period in which they are called to duty must also be refunded.
“Students who cannot complete a semester because they have an unexpected, simultaneous obligation to the military deserve the opportunity to earn the educational credits they were working towards before being called away,” said Assemblyman DeAngelo (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “It is only fair we allow these service members to have their hard work recognized and any educational fees for services they did not actually get to use be returned to them by their university.”
“This legislation will greatly benefit military members who are seeking a degree from one of New Jersey’s schools,” said Assemblyman Danielsen (D-Middlesex, Somerset). “Everyone deserves the opportunity to work towards achieving a higher education, which is why we must accommodate the unique needs of students who may have their semester interrupted in order to serve in our armed forces.”
The bill will now head to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.