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‘Patriot’s Path’ Could Fast-Track Degrees, Bolster Resources For Veterans In Fla. College Syst

Tallahassee Community College president Jim Murdaugh speaks at a press conference Thursday, February 20, in support of a proposed program called Patriot's Path, which adds resources for veterans in the state college system.
Tallahassee Community College president Jim Murdaugh speaks at a press conference Thursday, February 20, in support of a proposed program called Patriot's Path, which adds resources for veterans in the state college system.
Tallahassee Community College president Jim Murdaugh speaks at a press conference Thursday, February 20, in support of a proposed program called Patriot's Path, which adds resources for veterans in the state college system.
Credit Ryan Dailey / WFSU-FM
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Tallahassee Community College president Jim Murdaugh speaks at a press conference Thursday, February 20, in support of a proposed program called Patriot's Path, which adds resources for veterans in the state college system.

Florida’s college system wants to add more resources for veterans, which could honor training they got in the military with class credits. House and Senate sponsors are trying to help that effort along, with a bill that would create what they’re calling the Patriot’s Path program.

"Most of the career fields in the military require training, when you are in the military,” Tallahassee Community College president Jim Murdaugh said of the proposed program. "And for a long time, in my opinion, we were simply not taking advantage of granting credit for the competencies someone earns in the military.”

Murdaugh chairs the state college system’s Council of Presidents. He’s also a veteran.

“My experience was in security forces – that’s where I did my military time in the Air Force,” Murdaugh told WFSU. “And everyone in Security Forces goes through certain training programs.”

Patriot’s Path would give credits good for fast-tracking a degree in a given field. It would also waive out-of-state tuition for veterans and provide for one-on-one advising.

“And so, thinking about it this way – if you get out, and you want to get into law enforcement – why would you have to learn all over again, why would you have to learn all over again, something that you’ve learned and documented in the military? That’s just one example,” Murdaugh said.

Another example is commercial truck driving, something Murdaugh says is a big need in North Florida. Many people getting out of the military have experience driving large vehicles, which would be factored into their credits coming into the college system under the program.

Connor Walzak is a veteran who’s currently at TCC. He was at the Capitol to talk about Patriot’s Path.

“I was 11 Bravo in the Army. I got in in 2013, in April – I was at Arlington Cemetery at Fort Myer-Henderson Hall, and got out September 2016. Walzak said. He’s eyeing Florida universities to go to next, to continue his studies in biology.

“I spent about two years working, and then I saw an ad for Tallahassee Community College one day. I was kind of nervous going back to school, wasn’t necessarily excited about the fact, but I knew it was a step forward that I needed to take.”

To Walzak, getting credits for prior military training is a meaningful incentive to choose the college system.

“It reminds you of what you did, it reminds you that you were there for a reason, and you honestly are getting the credit that you worked for,” Walzak said. “It feels really good.”

Rep. Mel Ponder, an Okaloosa County Republican, says the state Department of Education’s advisory board will be tasked with coming up with a way to ensure previous training is honored with credits.

“We’ll challenge the Articulation Committee, give them a little over a year, to formulate what it looks like, and then hand that off to the board of Governors for the college system,” Ponder said Thursday. “But essentially it’s going to honor their service, any training they’ve had, any certifications they’ve gotten inside the military, what does it look like on the outside, and just honor them with that versus making them go through it again.”

Governor Ron DeSantis has said he wants to put Florida among the top workforce-trained states in the next decade. Ponder hasn’t spoken directly with the governor about his legislation, but thinks it’s in lockstep with his priorities.

“Clearly it’s on their radar, and I believe this grafts into (DeSantis’) vision. Of course the speaker of the House has been supportive, the Senate president has been supportive,” Ponder added. “So, thankfully – we’re not through, we’re not off the floor yet, but it seems to have been a great team effort to honor the military.”

The bill is poised to reach Governor Ron DeSantis’ desk, as it’s currently on the floor awaiting votes in both chambers. Ponder says the program will come at an insignificant cost to the state, as most colleges in the state already have the infrastructure needed – like TCC, which has its own veterans’ success center.

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