NAICU Washington Update

GI Bill 85/15 Fix Passes Congress

August 19, 2022

After months of behind-the-scenes work, and two congressional hearings this summer, Congress last week passed by unanimous consent S. 4458, the Ensuring the Best Schools for Veterans Act, and sent it to the president for signature. 

The bipartisan, bicameral bill fixes the regulatory problems institutions experienced with policy changes to the 85/15 rule from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by creating a true 35% waiver. Passage of this bill ensures new veteran students will be able to enroll this fall in the majors they chose to pursue. 

Specifically, the bill reverses the VA “reset” of the 35% waiver and eliminates the need for institutions with less than 35% veteran student enrollment to calculate, maintain or submit 85/15 reports. Institutions will be required to report veteran student enrollment percentages every two years to maintain the 35% waiver. 

The 85/15 rule has been in law for decades and serves as a quality metric by ensuring at least 15% of students in a major pay for the program without using GI Bill benefits.  However, the new VA policy required institutions to count students receiving institutional financial aid on the GI Bill benefit side of the equation, which caused a multitude of programs to be deemed ineligible for veteran enrollment – including some programs without any veteran students enrolled. 

From the beginning of the implementation of the new policy in late 2021, NAICU heard from many institutions that the new calculations deemed a significant number of programs ineligible for veteran enrollment.  This unintended consequence of blocking access to the very programs veterans were interested in – such as cybersecurity, IT, business management, criminal justice or health care fields – is a disservice to veterans and our campus communities.

The 35% waiver has been in law for decades as well, with the congressional intent that if an institution serves veteran students that represent fewer than 35% of its total enrollment, then the 85/15 programmatic calculation is unnecessary. In a May survey of NAICU members, all but one indicated they have significantly fewer than 35% veteran student enrollment, but that they serve the veteran student population well. Also, 90% of responding institutions participate in the GI Bill Yellow Ribbon Program, providing an institutional funding match to VA dollars for veteran tuition. 

To advocate in support of the bill, NAICU asked members to contact their Representative and Senators regularly over the last six months, and to share the story of how they serve veteran students, how they match GI Bill funds, and what the new VA reset meant for their enrollment outlook. Presidents in the districts and states of members of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs were particularly helpful in communicating the direct impact of the VA policy changes on the veteran students’ ability to enroll in desired majors in their states. 

In Washington, NAICU worked closely with committee staff and colleagues in the other higher education associations to review legislative proposals and generate support for the bill. The quick passage this summer indicated Congress understood the problem needed to be corrected soon so that veteran students could enroll this fall.

Once the president signs the bill, the next step will be for the VA to issue an implementation plan. The VA has informally indicated that it should not be difficult to approve the 35% waivers, because colleges have been in the process of applying for them since January. As soon as public information is available, NAICU will share it with members. 

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