TOPEKA — Gov. Jeff Colyer signed legislation to adjust the state's college tuition assistance program for active members of the Kansas National Guard and called upon lawmakers to authorize an increase in funding for the initiative.

The goal is to grant members the opportunity to earn up to 15 credit hours each semester at no personal cost. The effort was lauded Wednesday at the Capitol by Adjutant General Lee Tafanelli, who leads the Kansas Army and Air Guard, as well as officials of the Kansas Board of Regents and the state's community college board.

Colyer said appropriations required to complete the college tuition reform outlined in House Bill 2541 had been included in the House's version of the new state budget, but the Senate's measure doesn't include approximately $2 million necessary.

"I'm calling on all members of the Legislature to support this important program as we go forward and to have 100 percent tuition assistance funding," Colyer said. "This is an investment that not only benefits those who serve, but it benefits Kansas employers."

Tafanelli, a two-star general in the Army Guard, said the objective was to elevate Kansas' tuition assistance program to compete with benefits provided in surrounding states. Parity with neighboring states in terms of higher education tuition and fees can improve the Kansas Guard's ability to recruit and retain members, he said.

Under the bill signed by Colyer, eligible Kansas Guard members would be required to apply for federal financial assistance before tapping state aid. Participants in the state program could attend public or private colleges, including universities and community colleges.

“The improvements to the Kansas National Guard educational assistance act will help make a college education more accessible and affordable for servicemembers,” said Blake Flanders, president of the state Board of Regents. “That is a tremendous benefit to members of the Guard and their families, as well as the Kansas economy.”

Kansas Guard members could draw the expanded benefit as long as they have at least one year remaining on their enlistment contract at the beginning of any semester for which they receive assistance. They also must agree to serve actively in good standing with the Kansas Guard for at least 24 months upon completion of the last semester that they use the benefit.

Tafanelli said the primary age of potential recruits was 18 to 24 years old, but less than one-third of Americans in that category qualify for military service, due to health and other personal factors. A fraction of that total express genuine interest in serving, he said, but less than 1 percent sign up.

"We're really all trying to go after that same high-caliber individual. If we can offer benefits like this it really allows us to give back to our communities, invest in that future, invest in that education of service members," Tafanelli said.

He said the Kansas Guard had been able to fill 90 percent of Air Guard slots and did slightly better in terms meeting staffing demands in the Army Guard. The Kansas Guard is in the upper one-third among states in terms of retention, he said.