A military transfer of her spouse is interrupting the college education of Lauren Kent.
“As a non-traditional student, I’m already racing against the clock to complete my degree,” said Kent, a wife and mother of three, who served eight years in the U.S. Navy before entering college.
Kent, who U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, arranged to testify at a House Republican Policy Committee hearing, is graduating this spring from Jefferson County Community College with an associate’s degree, and wants to continue her studies in molecular biology, with an eventual goal of enrolling in medical school.
When her husband, an Army soldier at Fort Drum, learned in February he would be transferred to California, Kent inquired about transferring to California State University Monterey Bay, but learned the application period for fall transfer students was already closed.
The delay will leave a two-year gap in her education because, by starting classes in fall 2017, she will not have enough time to complete two years of course work to graduate before her husband is transferred again.
Stefanik, who chaired the hearing in Washington on Tuesday, said she hopes to add provisions in a comprehensive higher education bill to provide flexibility in application deadlines for spouses of military members who are transferred.
“I thought the story was pretty powerful,” Stefanik said in a telephone interview after the hearing.
Stefanik is running for re-election in November against Democrat Mike Derrick, a retired Army colonel from Peru, in Clinton County, and Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello, a bread company owner and political activist from Hudson Falls.
Kent, one of four witnesses at the hearing, spoke about challenges for older college students.
Kent said she suggested federal financial aid take into account successful completion of courses, not just enrolling in courses.
“It would be focused on completion. … So you would have a more driven college population,” she said, in a telephone interview after the hearing.
She said the federal government should offer financial aid for text books, and should be more flexible with credit-hour eligibility requirements for part-time students.
She also spoke in support of legislation Stefanik introduced to re-instate the “Year-Round Pell” program that at one time provided supplemental Pell grants for additional courses in summer and other non-traditional semesters.
“That would encourage students to be able to take more classes, which would help them to graduate on time,” Kent said.
Stefanik said Stan Jones, president of College Complete America, another witness, also spoke in support of her Year-Round Pell legislation, which had 43 co-sponsors, 22 Republicans and 21 Democrats, as of Thursday.
Jones’ group focuses on strategies to improve graduation rates.
“There is a correlation. If you are able to take more credit hours, you are more likely to graduate,” Stefanik said. “We want to make sure that students, particularly those that are taking on student loans, are able to graduate because you are more likely to be able to tackle those student loans if you have a job and you have a degree.”
Stefanik said she was impressed with a presentation Jim Kennedy, associate vice president and director of financial aid at Indiana University, another witness, made about the university’s practice of advising students each semester about the economic impact of student debt and the ability to repay in chosen fields of study.
“If you major in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) field, for example, your likely average salary after graduation is higher than if you graduate in a non-STEM field,” she said.