NAICU Washington Update

Guidance On Compliance With 85/15 Rule Gets Congressional Attention

December 03, 2021

In October 2020, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) increased oversight of colleges’ compliance with the 85/15 rule, which is intended to ensure that no more than 85% of a course of study (major) be made up of veteran students using VA benefits. At issue is the counting and reporting of students who use VA educational benefits to pay for tuition. 

The intent of the rule, which has been in statute for decades, is to protect against colleges taking advantage of veteran students and their VA educational benefits, by ensuring there is a mix of veteran and non-veteran students in a major.

However, due to program abuses found in some schools, the VA developed the concept of “supported” versus “non-supported” students—the effect of which has been to place many students who do not receive VA benefits into the “supported” category.  Further compounding the confusion this change has created, the VA issued new definitions of “supported” and “non-supported” students in September 2021. 

As colleges have been preparing to comply this fall, it has become evident that the new guidance is not only confusing, but also harmful to veterans.  Colleges are starting to hear back from VA that a surprising number of programs, many of which are popular with veteran students, are not eligible for VA benefits because of the new “supported” versus “non-supported” classification of students.

Adding to the confusion about how to count students under the new classifications, the VA has rolled out the new guidance through updates to the School Certifying Official Handbook, education and training webinars, and Frequently Asked Questions documents, each with slightly different language.

To help resolve the problem, the House and Senate leadership of the Committees on Veterans Affairs recently wrote to the Secretary of VA, Denis McDonough, asking that the guidance be further clarified and better communicated to schools.  Hopefully the communication from the chairmen of the VA oversight committees will lead to answers that will address the problems that institutions and their veteran students are currently experiencing.  

Compounding the confusion is the decision by the VA to “reset” the so-called 35% exemption.  The exemption allows institutions with less than 35% of its students receiving veterans benefits from having to routinely report their 85/15 calculations to the VA.  The VA found that in recent years, colleges had fallen out of compliance with the 85/15 calculations and reporting, and that the VA had been lax in enforcing the compliance. Thus, the VA decided to “reset” the system and get both colleges and the agency on track by requiring all institutions to send in their 85/15 compliance reports on a more regular basis. 

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