This story was updated on Sept. 22.
Dozens of military and veteran service organizations are pushing back against the Department of Education’s decision earlier this year to suspend enforcement of Obama-era rules aimed largely at for-profit colleges and universities.
Leaders of 36 organizations, most military-oriented, wrote in a letter to the Education Department Wednesday that they “strongly oppose” efforts to undermine policies that protect both students and taxpayers. Service members, veterans and their families are particularly vulnerable to “unscrupulous colleges,” they said.
Regulations that clarified how students duped by schools could seek loan forgiveness and evaluated whether most programs at for-profit institutions and other non-degree programs led to gainful employment for students were set to take full effect July 1. But Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced in June she was postponing the implementation of these regulations — seen by many as a means of holding for-profit institutions more accountable — while the Department reevaluated whether the regulations actually work for students.
Wednesday’s letter, submitted during the public comment period on the existing regulations, is the latest in a series of notices to government officials from organizations that advocate for veterans, service members and their families stating opposition to any efforts to roll back regulations intended to protect students from predatory institutional practices.
“There’s been a practice by a number of (for-profit) schools to target veterans and often tell them whatever they need to get them enrolled,” said Sean Marvin, legal director for the Veterans Education Success, a nonprofit that co-signed the letter.
Though federal law states that for-profit colleges must not receive more than 90 percent of their funding from federal student loans and grants, some schools take advantage of an exception that considers GI Bill funds as private dollars, Marvin said.
When national for-profit chains Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute abruptly shut down in 2015 and 2016, respectively, thousands of veteran students were among those left in limbo — in many cases, with student debt and credits that didn’t transfer to other institutions.
“ITT is no longer around, but its business model is still viable, unfortunately,” Marvin said — that‘s why he feels more protections are needed to ensure that doesn’t happen again.
Notably absent from the list of signatories on Wednesday’s letter were representatives from Veterans of Foreign Wars.
A VFW spokesman, Ryan Gallucci, said the decision not to sign was organizational. “We wanted something that we agreed with 100 percent and decided to hold off on commenting publicly,” he said.
Representatives from at least one listed organization, the Military Officers Association of America, told Military Times Thursday that while they support the letter’s contents, they had not heard of it being submitted this week and believed the organization’s signature was re-purposed from a previous letter. The following day, the organization said it had, indeed, been notified.
The American Legion, which did not sign that letter, submitted a separate letter to the Education Department. John Kamin, assistant director of the American Legion Veterans Employment and Education Division, said in an email the organization recently passed resolutions at its national convention to support closing the 90-10 loophole and uphold protections for students borrowers and their rights to gainful employment.
DeVos’ suspension of these rules in June reset “a rulemaking process that took two years to complete with no solicitation from military stakeholders for input,” the organization’s August resolution states.
The Department of Education did not comment by press time, but DeVos has maintained in statements to the media on this issue that her top priority is to protect students.
“Fraud, especially fraud committed by a school, is simply unacceptable,” she said in June, announcing it was time for a “regulatory reset.”
“Unfortunately, last year’s rulemaking effort missed an opportunity to get it right. The result is a muddled process that’s unfair to students and schools, and puts taxpayers on the hook for significant costs. It’s time to take a step back and make sure these rules achieve their purpose: helping harmed students,” she said. “It is the Department’s aim, and this Administration’s commitment, to protect students from predatory practices while also providing clear, fair and balanced rules for colleges and universities to follow.”
Last month, DeVos announced the department had begun transforming its oversight process for schools getting federal financial dollars, taking on a more “sophisticated” approach.
The letter calls on the Department of Education to push for “higher quality and better gatekeeping.”
“The Education Department must do all it can to ensure that American heroes who have served their country are treated with honor and respect when they become college students, and that they can trust the federal government’s stamp of approval that a program is worth their hard-earned GI Bill benefits,” it states.