NAICU Washington Update

VA Seeks to Answer Questions Regarding 85/15 Rule

April 29, 2022

After technical difficulties scuttled its original plan, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) finally held its Education Service Office Hours this week for School Certifying Officials (SCOs). The office hour training sessions covered a variety of topics, including the 85/15 rule and the 35% waiver, and sought to clear up confusion and answer questions regarding definitions and other components of the two issues.

While the VA provided presentation materials prior to the office hours, the training sessions were lacking in providing answers to the many questions colleges and universities have about compliance. 

Part of the presentation was about the implementation of the 85/15 rule and the 35% waiver, which have been of great concern to NAICU. Department staff reiterated that for the 85% side of the equation, the statute refers to “supported students” as students receiving VA benefits or “any portion of tuition paid for by the institution.” However, further explanation about “tuition paid for by the institution” made a distinction about institutional aid that is restricted to the veteran in “policy or application.”  The VA created a check list for institutions to determine whether a student should be considered supported or non-supported.

If institutional aid is available to veteran and non-veteran students who are “similarly circumstanced,” then it is not restricted. In other words, if an institution is not making its institutional aid equally available to veteran and non-veteran students, then non-veteran students are counted on the veteran’s side of the equation when calculating the 85% threshold.  

Since the Yellow Ribbon institutional match is not considered institutional aid by VA, but can cover full tuition, this is putting many private colleges that are generous with institutional resources to all their students in a Catch-22 in meeting the 85/15 requirement. 

With regard to the 15% portion of the equation, VA staff indicated this is intended to demonstrate that 15% of students are “using their own money to attend the educational program,” thus deeming it of value to the marketplace and not dependent on federal aid to survive.  The VA is currently working on addressing the thousands of new 85/15 reports it has received.  Training sessions will continue in May and updated reports can be submitted up to the June 30 deadline. 

The webinar also addressed the applications for the 35% waiver on annual reporting.  This is the rule that allows institutions whose total enrollment is comprised of no more than 35% veteran students to receive a waiver from having to submit annual 85/15 programmatic level reports to the VA.  The VA is working on thousands of applications it has already received for the waiver and is advising institutions that have not yet received a response from the Department to sit tight and not follow up at this time.  To make it clear, the VA said, “if you have submitted your 35% waiver application and haven’t gotten a response, please do nothing.” 

NAICU is concerned about some of the inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the VA’s explanation of current law, current regulations, and guidance for implementing the 35% reset. We have heard from a few institutions that have received responses from VA indicating that because of the new calculations, their programs are being deemed ineligible for veteran enrollment. If your institution has received such correspondence, please share that with Stephanie Giesecke on the NAICU staff. 

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