This week, we sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Advisory Committee to highlight three points of concern for Congress and VA to consider: troubling changes to VA’s 85/15 Rule; the need for Monthly Housing Allowance parity for online Veteran Students; and recommendations for the long-overdue modernization of the VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool.
The so-called “85/15 Rule” historically meant that no more than 85 percent of a program could consist of “supported students,” i.e., Veteran Students using their benefits, or nonveteran students being supported by the institution to attend a program. If a program tipped past this 85 percent point, Veterans would no longer be allowed to use their earned benefits in that program. The Department of Veterans Affairs recently changed their policy on the so-called “85/15 Rule,” now counting civilian, cash-paying students who are late on their payments alongside Veteran Students using their benefits. This means that in every sector of higher education–Public, Nonprofit, and For-Profit–nonveteran students can and will put Veterans’ benefits at risk under this new 85/15 policy guidance. At no point should a Veteran lose access to their earned benefits because of the actions of a nonveteran.
We continue to urge the Committee to support Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) Parity, meaning that Veteran students enrolled in online programs would receive the same support as Veterans enrolled at a brick-and-mortar institution. Veteran and military students enroll in online programs at twice the rate of nonmilitary students. And yet, these Veterans are receiving half the support in the form of Monthly Housing Allowance. Further, the conditions set by COVID-19, in which all institutions transitioned to online-only programs, have highlighted this inequity among student Veterans in online programs, and it has made evident that online-only student Veterans need and ought to be entitled to the full Monthly Housing Allowance afforded to their peers throughout and following the COVID-19 crisis.
Finally, we recommend that VA modernize its GI Bill Comparison Tool by syncing their data with the Department of Education. Doing so would allow the Comparison Tool to have programmatic-level student outcomes available, including the average return on investment of the GI Bill in these programs. Such a modernization would empower Veteran students to choose the programs that are right for them and their families, while providing further transparency and oversight of the GI Bill.