Veterans groups want to change a rule governing for-profit colleges that some have said can lead to shady recruitment of troops and vets.
Known as the “90-10 rule,” it requires that for-profit colleges receive no more than 90 percent of their revenue from federal student aid.
But the rule doesn’t count the Post-9/11 GI Bill or Defense Department-sponsored tuition assistance as federal education benefits subject to the 90-percent limit, so for-profit colleges can get around the rule by enrolling large numbers of veterans and active-duty service members.
That has led some veterans advocates to argue that the 90-10 rule incentivizes for-profit colleges to target veterans and troops for enrollment, sometimes in a predatory manner. These groups are pressuring Congress to change the rule as part of its reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
“The 90-10 loophole has been abused long enough, and this important change is a major check on the quality of institutions,” said Lauren Augustine, Student Veterans of America’s vice president of government affairs, during a recent news conference on Capitol Hill.
Six other groups joined SVA at the news conference to press the case: American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Military Officers Association of America, Veterans Education Success, the National Military Family Association and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
The for-profit education sector is also unhappy with the 90-10 rule — but for a completely different reason.
Officials with the trade group Career Education Colleges and Universities question why the rule only applies to for-profit schools, instead of applying to all types of schools, including public and nonprofit.
“There are good and bad programs at every school in America,” said Steve Gunderson, the group’s president. “We ought to identify the bad programs and tell the schools, either improve them or [we’ll] stop them.”
The Higher Education Act, a main focus of the Capitol Hill news conference, governs federal higher-education programs, including those related to student loans and other ways to make college more affordable and accessible.
It has been around since 1965 and has been rewritten eight times since, with the most recent re-authorization coming in the form of the Higher Education Opportunity Act in 2008. It was supposed to be reauthorized in 2013, but Congress extended the deadline.
“The time for equivocation on 90-10 is over,” John Kamin, an American Legion credentialing and education policy associate, said at the news conference. "We do not accept that this is, by nature, a partisan issue. Protecting veterans never should be.”
Tom Porter, legislative director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, emphasized that a veteran’s GI Bill benefits aren’t renewable. He wants to change the 90-10 rule so veterans become less likely to attend for-profit colleges and earn “a bunch of credits that are worth nothing," essentially wasting their benefits.
“We can’t afford to have predatory schools going after student veterans with dollar signs on their backs, and it’s a disgrace that this is happening,” he said.
The situation he described is similar to the experience of Eric Luongo, a Navy veteran who testified before Congress at a previous hearing that he believes the for-profit school DeVry University made him promises they didn’t keep. He accused the school of leaving him with more than $100,000 in student-loan debt and a degree employers wouldn’t take seriously.
One prominent veterans group that wasn’t at the news conference was Veterans of Foreign Wars. Patrick Murray, VFW’s deputy director of national legislative service, told Military Times that his organization doesn’t necessarily oppose the 90-10 rule, but rather they’re more afraid of “what it could lead to.”
VFW still supports changing the 90-10 rule to avoid the “predatory tactics” it might incentivize, Murray said.
“One of the things it can lead to is heavily targeting military members and veterans, because you can essentially run your school off these government funds,” he said. “It’s time that we use common sense to figure out where federal funds are coming from and how they’re accounted for.”
Gunderson, president of for-profit trade group CECU, doesn’t believe in the rule because “it’s not any kind of indicator of academic quality.” But he doesn’t necessarily think getting rid of it should be a priority.
Michael Dakduk, CECU’s executive vice president and director of government relations, said he wants to know why the 90-10 rule is only discussed in terms of for-profit colleges, as opposed to the entire education sector.
“Our sector will live with any regulation that applies to all institutions regularly," he said.
Changing or ending the 90-10 rule did not come up during a recent conference call with a senior administration official about what the White House wanted to see with the HEA’s re-authorization. The call was introduced by Ivanka Trump, President Donald Trump’s daughter.
“We need to modernize our higher education system to make it affordable, flexible and outcome-oriented so all Americans, young and old, can learn the skills they need to secure and retain good-paying jobs,” she said.