House Panel Examines Obama’s Executive Order on College Recruiting of Vets

Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) convened the House Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity Wednesday to examine the potential costs and benefits of President Obama’s executive order (EO) that ties military and veteran education benefits to marketing and recruitment practices at postsecondary institutions.

The executive order calls for the establishment of new outcome measurements, financial disclosure requirements and enhanced enforcement and compliance mechanisms.

Experts testifying at the hearing noted that it was too early to properly assess the impact of the president’s executive order, but a representative of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) said the order would likely increase institutional costs, but that would hopefully be offset by added protections for veterans.

“There are significant administrative challenges in coordinating the efforts of the several federal agencies involved, and micromanagement and regulatory overreach are distinct possibilities,” AACRAO Associate Executive Director Barmak Nassirian said in his testimony.  “But in conversations with Administration officials, we have been assured that the agencies are sensitive to compliance issues and institutional burdens, and that every attempt will be made to reduce duplicative and unnecessary requirements. The higher education community, in turn, stands ready to work with the Administration and Congress in implementing the ‘Principles of Excellence’ articulated in the EO.”

The EO directs the administration to develop “Principles of Excellence” to ensure that educational institutions receiving funding through federal military and veterans educational benefits meet a defined criteria for accountability and oversight. These principles would require that institutions:

  • Provide meaningful information about the cost and quality of educational institutions, to assist service members, veterans, spouses, and other family members in making choices about how to use their Federal educational benefits;
  • Prevent abusive and deceptive recruiting practices that target the recipients of Federal military and veterans educational benefits; and
  • Ensure that educational institutions provide high-quality academic and student support services to active-duty service members, reservists, members of the National Guard, veterans, and military families.

The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities raised some concern about the proposed metrics and extended an invitation to the Obama administration to work collaboratively on the issue.

“We are encouraged that the Executive Order calls for developing new, appropriate metrics to measure a veteran’s academic progress – individually and collectively – and stand ready to work with the Administration, Congress, and all interested parties to develop a fair, appropriate measurement,” APSCU  President and CEO Steve Gunderson said. “Until that process is completed, no set of data will be relevant for or related to the realities of either a servicemember or veteran’s educational experience.”

Gunderson also argued that many arguments for additional oversight and compliance measures can be addressed through existing frameworks, including the Department of Education (ED), state licensing entities and accreditors.

Frostburg State University President Jonathan C. Gibralter, testifying on behalf of American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), noted that while he supports added protections for borrowers, that any process for implementation should consider the relationship and communication between agencies, particularly Veterans Affairs and the higher education community.

“VA’s lack of guidance and inconsistent information-sharing on matters that seriously affect institutions’ ability to serve veteran students (e.g., the prospective VA garnishment of tuition and fee payments for unrelated debts, as detailed in a community letter to Secretary Shinseki on April 9, 2012[10]) has been well-documented in the media and in previous higher education testimony,” Gibralter said. “While we appreciate that VA has had to learn a new way of doing business with higher education given the structure of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, higher education—and hence veteran students—have still suffered from VA’s lack of communication with the community.”

An analysis of VA data, by a Senate committee, shows that of the $4.4 billion in VA higher education benefits disbursed to 5,985 institutions in the 2010-11 academic year, more than 37 percent went to for-profit education companies. The HELP Committee found that several colleges with high dropout rates and low graduation rates devoted as much as 30 percent of their revenue to advertising, marketing and recruiting.

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