Student veterans, administration talk priority registration

Chas Johnson News Contributor

Talks between Veteran leaders at Oregon State University and the school’s administration concerning a new Oregon law that mandates public universities and community colleges provide priority registration to military veterans are now underway on campus.

Veteran and Family Student Association President, Donald Phillips, is one of the student leaders who have voiced their concerns to the OSU administration only satisfying the minimum requirements of the law.

Phillips is not happy with the university’s current adaptation of the law.

“I don’t think that the way that they’re doing it makes them worthy of a ‘Military Friendly’ award,” said Phillips, referencing the 2016 award from Victory Media that OSU received.

Phillips has met with the registrar, registrar’s assistant and Jock Mills, the OSU Director of Government Relations to discuss the implementation of H.B. 2645, the bill that mandates universities provide military veterans with priority registration.

“They told us that they are implementing it to the minimum standard required. Anything more, they would need a reason for,” Phillips said. “They asked us to submit a plan on other ways that priority registration could work, we did within the week. That was in the beginning of December.”

Phillips met with the university again Feb. 18.

“They did specifically ask that we try to handle it in house, and not reach out to legislation. From my understanding they have had meetings with other individuals since our (Dec.) meeting. It appears that they are attempting to work with us, but any type of priority registration past the minimum is still only a possibility currently,” Philips said. “If we don’t get something satisfactory in place for next fall then we will likely be reaching out to legislation.”

Associated Students of Oregon State University Director of Veterans Affairs, Darren Nguyen, has been working on the issue of veteran priority registration alongside Phillips.

“The meeting went better than expected,” Nguyen said, referencing the Feb. 18 meeting.

Nguyen stated that while there was no guarantee of actual change, he anticipated being informed on a weekly basis of registrar conversations about priority registration for veterans.

“We asked for veteran priority registration for Oregon State University student veterans to be in the same category as student-athletes,” said Nguyen.

Nguyen wants veteran priority registration structured similarly to the way student athletes register, but an a hour later.

Nguyen and Phillips said they could not recommend OSU to other veterans with the current situation the way it is.

“If you’re looking for a veteran community where you can transition pretty well, it’s not the best university to go to,” said Nguyen.

Phillips had similar sentiments.

“Unless they’re going into, specifically, engineering, I would not recommend OSU for veterans. It sucks to say that. OSU was my first choice school, I wanted to come to OSU, I wanted to be in Corvallis, in the area,” Phillips said. “It’s disappointing.”

The Oregon House of Representatives and the Senate voted unanimously to approve House Bill 2645 in 2015. Governor Brown signed her approval June 15, 2015 and HB 2645 became law on January 1, 2016. Now public universities and community colleges across Oregon are figuring out plans for their own systems of priority registration pertaining to veterans. The deadline for implementation being Sept. 15, 2016.

Subsection 4(b) of the bill reads, “4) A priority enrollment system established pursuant to this section must, at a minimum, provide that a qualified student who has completed new student orientation requirements for enrollment has priority registration for enrollment over (…)(b) Persons who are not qualified students and who are registering for the first time for enrollment at a community college or public university listed in ORS 352.002.”

“Since its introduction, H.B. 2645 has been discussed and amended multiple times to include language that only obligates universities to grant priority registration to the first term a Student Veteran enrolls, after they’ve completed an orientation,” Portland State University’s Raymond Facundo of the Veteran Resource Center (VRC) explained in a VRC memorandum.

The memo states a veteran must take at least 12 credits per term to receive their full housing stipend, if they cannot take a needed course because it is full, they may face a financial burden.

“Programs like the Post 9/11 GI Bill grant the user 36 months of tuition and housing benefits. The GI bill will not pay for any class during that timeframe, but only the courses that follow their specific degree plan,” Facundo said, elaborating on the problems this still leaves veterans in terms of scheduling. “This can be problematic, as many veterans come into PSU with transfer credits from military service, which automatically fill in their general elective requirements.”

PSU is similar in size to OSU according to enrollment reports and numbers provided by OSU and PSU. PSU’s reported enrollment for Fall 2015 was 28,076, with 878 veterans, comprising approximately 3.1 percent of the student body. OSU reported a Fall 2015 enrollment of 29,576 students, with 965 total veterans comprising approximately 3.3 percent of the student body.

PSU has chosen to do is to incorporate qualified veterans into the existing priority registration framework.

“Veterans and Student Athletes share the same date for priority registration in a given term. Students registered through our Disability Resource Center have the first date for priority registration, followed by Veterans, Student Athletes and continuing Graduate students,” PSU’s registrar explained.

Facundo said PSU worked to keep the priority registration for veterans actually priority.

“Considering the fact that all new students are first enrolled after orientation, and those relying on the GI Bill and other VA educational benefits are still fighting to get into the courses they need in order to finish their degrees, we feel that the ‘priority’ was lost,” Facundo said, summarizing PSU’s reasoning for exceeding minimum compliance.

William Elfering, the Military and Veteran Resources Advisor at OSU said the university is still working on their plan to implement H.B. 2645.

“The administration is working with some members of our student veteran community to better understand how priority registration would affect their ability to use their VA educational benefits,” Elfering said.

OSU’s registrar, Rebecca Mathern, touched on the emphasis of communication between veterans, other student leaders, and the school administration in this process.

“There are other conversations currently occurring about how OSU can help other populations of veterans (and dependents) get priority registration above and beyond what is required. The idea is to find out how we can serve not only our veterans but other students who are under restrictions to complete their program in a timely way,” Mathern said. “Of course, the goal is that all students, regardless of student type, can get into the courses they need, when they need them.”

The office of State Representative Andy Olson also spoke to HB 2645 and its adoption at OSU.

“Rep. Olson has spoken with OSU in regards to implementing HB 2645 and feels confident the administration is fulfilling the minimum requirements of the bill,” Olson’s representatives said. “Additionally, OSU is taking further steps to review the long term picture in assuring all students on fixed financial benefits graduate as quickly as possible.”

Oregon universities are varied when it comes to satisfying the minimum requirements for H.B. 2645, or going beyond that. According to their respective registrars and officials, Eastern Oregon University, Oregon Institute of Technology, Southern Oregon University, and PSU are all choosing to offer priority registration to veterans until the veteran graduates.

OSU officials have repeatedly stated that they will maintain compliance with the law.

The U of O’s registrar has stated that they are already in compliance with the law, and have no plans to make changes beyond what the law requires.

“Western Oregon University is currently engaged in discussions regarding how we will implement priority registration for veterans as legislated in Oregon House Bill 2645,” Western Oregon University’s registrar said.

When asked for comment on OSU’s involvement in the development of HB 2645, OSU’s Mills, provided an explanation.

“We were not aware of the bill until after it was introduced. Once we reviewed the bill, we approached the sponsor, Rep. Brad Witt (D-Clatskanie), who enabled us to draft an amendment that sought to ensure that veterans received academic advising prior to registration,” Mills said.

The Oregon House of Representatives’ amendment to A-Engrossed H.B. 2645 was passed by the House on March 23, 2015, and was included in the final draft of the bill.

Mills said that priority registration doesn’t help veterans if they don’t know what classes to register for in order to graduate with the degree they desire. According to Mills, OSU requires academic advising for all students and the amendment simply sought to ensure that veterans did not embark on a course of study that didn’t achieve their academic goals.

OSU officials involved with the bill also testified in support of the bill adding veteran dependents to the legislation.

“Our sole goal in suggesting amendments to the bill was to increase the bill’s effectiveness for veterans,” said Mills.

Mathern noted that in late Feb. or early March OSU will be announcing opportunities for discussion around veteran priority registration and will be requesting some student leaders to co-lead these discussions.

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