Today, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), a veteran and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, hailed executive action to help ensure all of America's service members, veterans, and their families have access to the information they need to make informed educational decisions and are protected from aggressive and deceptive targeting by educational institutions. President Obama's Executive Order builds on Sen. Carper's bipartisan and bicameral legislation, the Military and Veterans Education Protection Act (S. 2116), which improves the current laws regarding educational benefits for our nation's military service members and veterans. The new executive order applies to a variety of military and veteran education benefits, including the GI Bill, Tuition Assistance Program, and Military Spouse Career Advancement Account Program (MyCAA).
"As a veteran, I believe we have a moral imperative to ensure that those who have sacrificed for our country obtain the best education possible, one that will equip them with the skills they need to find a good job, repay their college loans, and go on to live productive lives," said Sen. Carper. "I commend President Obama and his team for joining me and dozens of my Senate and House colleagues in our efforts to crack down on improper recruiting practices. I'm also encouraged that the Departments of Education, Defense and Veterans Affairs are finally coordinating to set up a centralized complaint system, which was one of the recommendations that the Government Accountability Office made in its report to our subcommittee last year. This cooperation will help the government to track complaints and systematic problems with predatory schools throughout the country.
"When we held a hearing last fall on the topic of abuse of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Department of Veterans Affairs explained that only one school out of 6,000 had been barred from receiving Post-9/11 G.I. Bill payments. That is unacceptable," continued Sen. Carper. "We must be aggressive on this front, and this executive order will hopefully lead to the federal government's active pursuit of abuse. While these are important first steps, there is more work to be done. If we are to prevent abuse of our military and veteran students by predatory schools, we must do a better job of providing these students with the necessary information to make them better consumers. As I continue to work with my colleagues and service member and veterans groups on this important issue, I hope the Administration will also recognize the need to pass the Military and Veterans Education Protection Act, which closes a loophole in current law that incentivizes bad actors in the for-profit education industry to aggressively recruit veteran and military students."
Introduced in February, Sen. Carper's bill would modify the current 90/10 financial aid formula used by for-profit colleges to ensure federal funding utilized through the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and the Department of Defense's (DOD) Tuition Assistance program is counted as federal dollars rather than as private dollars. The legislation would also amend current law so that if a school is out of compliance for two consecutive years, it would lose eligibility to accept not only new Department of Education dollars, but also new DOD and VA dollars.
According to the White House, today's Executive Order will:
Help Ensure Military and Veteran Students Have the Information They Need: The Executive Order will require that colleges provide more transparent information about their outcomes and financial aid options for students, which will help ensure that students are aware of the true cost and likelihood of completion prior to enrolling. According to the Senate HELP Committee, of the ten educational institutions collecting the most Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits between 2009 and 2011, eight were for-profit schools. Six of these schools had bachelor student withdrawal rates above 50 percent. The Executive Order will require that the Know Before You Owe financial aid form, developed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Department of Education (ED), is made available to every college student that participates in the Department of Defense's (DoD) Tuition Assistance program (nearly 2,000 schools). The Executive Order will also direct the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to encourage all schools--roughly 6,000 in total--participating in the GI Bill program to provide the Know Before You Owe form. This form provides students with critical information on tuition and fees, the availability of federal financial aid, estimated student loan debt upon graduation, and information about student outcomes like graduation rates. Further, the Executive Order will require that students are provided additional critical information, including school performance information over time, consumer protection information, and key financial aid documents, prior to the use of their benefits through the eBenefits portal. The VA will publically post on their website if schools who receive GI Bill benefits agree to adhere to the Executive Order.
Keep Bad Actors Off of Military Installations: There have been numerous reports of some institutions of higher education aggressively and inappropriately targeting military students. The Executive Order will require the Department of Defense to set forth rules for how educational institutions gain access to military installations in the first place, so that service members are not targeted by institutions known for a history of poor behavior in recruiting and marketing practices.
Crack Down on Improper Online Recruiting Practices: The Executive Order will direct the VA to initiate a process to register the term "GI Bill," so that external websites and programs are not deceptively and fraudulently marketing educational services and benefits to program beneficiaries. For instance, some companies have set up websites that suggest that veterans' benefits are only available at a subset of schools. The websites are also set up to resemble official government sites, and are marketed heavily at military installations and at separating service members.
Provide Veterans with a Complaint System: The Executive Order will require VA, DoD, and ED, in consultation with the CFPB and Department of Justice, to create a centralized complaint system for students receiving military and veterans' educational benefits. Currently, when military and veteran students feel that their school has acted fraudulently, they have no centralized system to file complaints, and federal agencies often lack access to information that will allow for follow-up enforcement or regulatory actions.
Improve Support Services for Service Members and Veterans: The Executive Order will require that colleges participating in the military and veterans education benefit programs do more to meet the needs of military and veteran students by providing clear educational plans for students, academic and financial aid counseling services with staff that are familiar with the VA and DoD programs, and the ability of service members to more easily re-enroll and/or receive a refund if they must leave school for service-related reasons.
Provide Students with Better Data on Educational Institutions: The Executive Order will require DoD, VA, and Ed to develop improved student outcome measures, such as completion rates for veterans, and a plan for collecting this data, which will be made available on Ed's College Navigator website. Currently, retention and completion rates cannot be broken down by veteran or service member status. Given the unique educational needs of veterans, active-duty service members, and their family members, it is important to provide them with a more accurate picture of what success looks like for students like them. The Executive Order will also require better reporting on the extent to which colleges rely on various types of federal benefits for operational support.
Strengthen Enforcement of Student Protections: The Executive Order will require that VA and DoD strengthen the enforcement and compliance functions of the VA and DoD, so that, working in conjunction with the Department of Education, DOJ, and the CFPB, agencies (including law enforcement agencies with responsibility over fraud investigations) can effectively act on complaints of improper activity.