Agencies work to bolster vet, family education outcomes

by Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON — Several government agencies are working on initiatives to improve educational success rates for service members, veterans and their families, senior Department of Veterans Affairs and consumer protection officials told lawmakers today.

Curtis L. Coy, deputy undersecretary for economic opportunity for VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration, testified with several other witnesses before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on educational outcomes for military members and veterans. Holly Petraeus, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s assistant director for the Office of Servicemember Affairs, also testified.

A central question was whether veterans and serving troops are unscrupulously recruited by some for-profit schools.

As Petraeus explained, a “90-10” provision in law that is meant to protect students actually creates a loophole some schools are exploiting.

She said the rule requires for-profit colleges to get at least 10 percent of their revenues from a source other than Title IV, which covers federal student financial aid programs.

The rule is meant to ensure that a college does not exist solely on federal funds, Petraeus said, but although tuition assistance and the Post-9/11 GI Bill are federally funded, they fall into the 10-percent category of the 90-10 rule.

“This means that for every service member using (tuition assistance) or GI Bill funds, as well as the spouse or child of a service member, in the case of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, that a for-profit college recruits, the college can then go out and enroll nine other students who are using Title IV funds,” Petraeus said. “And that can be a problem.”

This has given some for-profit colleges an incentive to see service members as “nothing more than dollar signs in uniform,” and to use unscrupulous marketing techniques to draw them in, Petraeus added.

Coy said that while VA defers to the Education Department on the 90-10 calculation, “we recognize the argument for including the (GI Bill) in the 90 percent limit on federal funding.” He also noted, though, that a change in the 90-10 rule could leave some schools ineligible to receive federal funds.
“Our concern is to ensure that veterans are not adversely affected by any proposed changes,” he said, “or to mitigate them to the extent possible.”

VA and the Veterans Benefits Administration have collaborated with multiple agencies since 2001 to inform veteran students about their educational opportunities, he said, and resources are available online from VA, VBA and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help potential students assess aptitude, plan a course of study and compare education costs.

VA also has placed vocational rehabilitation counselors at military installations across the country, Coy added, and will have counselors on 90 college campuses by the end of the fiscal year.

Coy noted VA has greatly increased oversight of all schools, including for-profit schools, and has this
year completed more than 3,000 compliance reviews on schools as of the end of May.

Nine institutions with a total of 177 veteran students were disqualified from receiving federal aid because of erroneous or misleading practices following those reviews, he said.

Petraeus noted a number of initiatives and online resources are in place to help troops and their families navigate post-secondary education.

“The wonderful education benefits provided to our military and their families through (tuition assistance) and the GI Bill should not be channeled to programs that do not promote — and may even frustrate — this outcome,” she said.