Too often the men and women who dedicate their lives to serving our country struggle to find meaningful, high-paying work when they return home. The General Assembly is taking several important steps this session to curb this unfortunate trend and make sure our veterans have a clear pathway toward a career and strong financial foundation for themselves and their families.
One of the most important ways to achieve that goal is to remove any barriers to education for veterans.
The Senate recently passed Senate Bill 177 to guarantee veterans in-state tuition rates at Indiana's seven public colleges and universities. Oftentimes – because of the nature of their service – veterans who served out of state or overseas do not qualify for in-state college tuition, even if they lived here before volunteering to serve. That can leave veterans with college costs not covered by the GI Bill, and deter them from achieving a postsecondary degree.
This bill works to make sure Hoosier veterans are immediately eligible for in-state tuition benefits when they come back home, but it also attracts hard working veterans from other states to start a life in Indiana. Our workforce could certainly benefit from the skills and passion these veterans have to offer.
Lawmakers are considering a second initiative to ease veterans' access to higher education with SB 115. This initiative calls on colleges and universities with at least 200 veteran students to establish a "combat to college" program, creating administrative and educational assistance for these students.
Veterans return to civilian life with a unique set of skills and challenges. I believe encouraging colleges to create support systems for these students will help veterans get the individualized guidance they need to have the best possible college experience.
Of course, the ultimate goal of these higher education proposals is to help our veterans find success in the workforce.
One of our focal points this session has been to address the "skills gap" that is preventing some Hoosiers, including veterans, from filling today's available jobs. Employers in Indiana report this gap as one of the major obstacles to stronger job growth for our state. According to a study by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, nearly one-third of Indiana's workforce lacks the skills to thrive in today's 21st-century economy. That's more than 930,000 Hoosiers.
To address this concern, lawmakers are committed to expanding Indiana's vocational and jobs training programs. House Bill 1002 would establish an 11-member Indiana Career Council made up of leaders in state government, business, education, labor and the military.
The goal of the Career Council is to connect employers with those involved in the training of Indiana's workers. It is our hope this collaboration will improve our state's career preparation efforts and better equip Hoosiers for jobs in growing, high-demand fields. We took care to ensure military involvement in these plans so that the particular needs of veterans are addressed.
We have always been a state that takes great pride in the brave men and women who fight to protect our freedom. Indiana has the fourth largest National Guard force in the United States, with 12,112 troops. It is our duty as citizens to give back to these veterans whom we owe so much. Certainly, one of the best ways to do that is to help them establish a worthwhile career and rewarding life upon returning home.