State of the Military-Connected Student Community in 2019

This year we’ve enjoyed enormous momentum in policy, advocacy, and legislation on issues important to military-connected students that sets up ambitious goals for 2020. Legislation was introduced in both sides of Congress which, if passed, would demonstrably improve the educational experiences for military-connected students and ensure better outcomes and greater accountability. 

Our State of the Military-Connected Student Community in 2019 article will cover recent progress to close the 90-10 loophole in the Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization, legislation to address GI Bill-specific issues for military-connected students, and the discharge of federal student loans for totally and permanently disabled veterans.

There has been a major push in Congress to pass the first Higher Education Act reauthorization in 11 years. As part of that effort, the House Education and Labor Committee has passed the College Affordability Act (CAA), a broad higher education package that touches upon myriad areas. Within the CAA, and specific to military-connected students, there is language to close the 90-10 loophole, a longstanding priority for military and veteran service organizations. 

The 90-10 rule was intended to ensure proprietary institutions provided enough educational value that at least 10 percent of their tuition revenue came from private sources outside of the federal government, as a market viability test. But the drafters of the legislation inadvertently left out Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits in the 90 percent federal side of the calculation. This has led to a long history of schools with poor outcomes targeting military-connected students – many times deceptively and predatorily – to fulfil this 10 percent they would not be otherwise able to obtain from private sources. The CAA closes this loophole, as well as provides other important data transparency and accountability provisions.  

On the Senate side, the first-ever bipartisan bill was introduced by Senators Carper, Lankford, Cassidy, and Tester to close the 90-10 loophole. This effort was newly supported by Chairman Lamar Alexander of the Senate HELP Committee. “This is a responsible and reasonable step to ensure that all of our military and veteran students are attending quality institutions worth their time and money,” said Senator Alexander. These dual measures in the House and Senate offer much encouragement that this common-sense policy will be passed into law in the next HEA reauthorization.

Additionally, the House recently passed H.R. 4625, the Protect the GI Bill Act, which provides reasonable updates to VA’s administration GI Bill benefits and protections for military-connected students. It includes key provisions, such as restoring educational benefits for military-connected students at closed schools, giving military-connected students the same rights as Title IV students regarding overpayments, and stopping deceptive recruiting, among other provisions. This bill implements policies for which military and veterans service organizations have been advocating since 2012 and is currently under consideration by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. 

Another major development was the discharge of federal student loans by the Department of Education for veterans who have been deemed totally and permanently disabled. 

Before President Trump’s Executive Order automatically discharging these loans, Veterans Education Success sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Education to discover how many veterans had applied for the program and how many had been placed in default. The response showed that more than half of the veterans eligible for the program had been placed in default. 

The automatic discharge of these loans for disabled veterans is long overdue, as the damage from defaulted loans for totally disabled veterans can be devastating. Unfortunately, there was a recent delay in implementing the program, but thankfully it looks like these veterans will finally have their loans discharged. We hope that any adverse credit actions or other negative consequences associated with being unnecessarily placed in default will be addressed moving forward. 

This year has seen the introduction of vital legislation which has been the culmination of years of hard work by VES, our partners, and Congress to ensure military-connected students are successfully utilizing their benefits at all institutions of higher education. We remain optimistic that these pieces of legislation will become law in 2020 as we continue our mission to protect the integrity of the GI Bill and give a voice to military-connected students across the country.