On Feb 16, Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced legislation, US Senate Bill 2116, the Military and Veterans Education Protection Act, which is intended to improve the current laws regarding educational benefits for our nation's military service members and veterans. It requires proprietary institutions of higher education to get at least 10 percent of their revenue from sources other than federal funding. If they don't, they would become ineligible for overall Title IV funding.
The proposed legislation focuses on what some in Congress believe to be a remedy for for-profit schools targeting and aggressively recruiting service members and veterans, in order to "make a quick buck off of (the military's) hard-earned benefits." Senator Harkin notes that the Congress has an "… obligation to make sure that our veterans and service members get an education that gives them an economic jump-start, not to pad the profits of education companies that often overpromise, overcharge and under-deliver."
His concern is that, "Once enrolled, many of our service members and veterans using their federally funded benefits don't always receive a quality education, unfairly impacting not only on our service members and veterans, but also American taxpayers." That concern may or may not be on target in all instances.
To that end, what does this proposed legislation mean to the students involved and to the large number of for-profit, private and public institutions that have been serving the military sector of the education community for decades, and serving them well? How could it impact them? Help them? Hurt them?
First I'll touch on the potential impact on the institutions and then on the potential collateral impact of that impact on active duty military and veteran students.
The Carper-Harkin bill changes the basic nature of the 90/10 formula. It includes all sources of federal funding in the 90 percent part of the equation, some of which had not been included there before. It folds all revenues from DoD and VA programs onto the 90 percent side rather than as non-federal dollars on the 10 percent side of the equation, where they are now counted. To remove any doubt, the legislation defines "federal funding" to include any and all federal sources, like grants, contracts, subsidies, loans, guarantees, and other federal assistance provided the school on behalf of a student so that they are able to attend the school. It would not include monthly housing stipends. Under this new legislation, the remaining 10 percent of their revenue must come from non-federal, non-DoD, non-VA and non-DOE funding sources noted above.
That might be a tough row to hoe for some of the current educational providers, including the "good ones," that get much of their funding from multiple federal sources, while already keeping tuition low enough to fit within existing funding split, and while imposing no additional cost on the students. What will these institutions have to do if this legislation passes? Raise tuition, deny enrollment to existing or new military and veteran students? Both could be a real possibility.
Whatever happens, just so that they are able to tread water, we wouldn't want institutions currently offering quality programs at reasonable costs to have to raise tuition, or to have to deny enrollment to active duty and others currently receiving other types of federal aid. This is particularly true if they are already receiving a good education from any of these schools that will eventually position them to get a good job upon leaving the Service.
Yes, the legislation moves federal funds into one basket for congressional accountability purposes. Yes, it establishes a tracking mechanism that delineates the sources of funding used to support the students' educational aspirations. And yes, it might help pinpoint institutions that cross ethical boundaries that the legislation is intended to "fix." But it may not be in the best interests of students currently participating in educational programs offered by quality, reputable proprietary, private or even public programs that are not ‘gouging the student or the government.' If the congress is not careful, the legislation might well just push some of the institutions that been serving the students and government so well for so long up a wall that would adversely impact on the students themselves.
Senator Carper, Senator Harkin and their cosponsors want to ensure that military and veteran students get a quality, affordable education that equips them with the skills they need to find a good job, that enables them to repay their college loans, and to go on to live productive lives in the communities they return to.
This is an admirable objective. But, in final analysis, we shouldn't put at risk the institutions that Senator Carper acknowledges wear the "white hats" in this business at the same time they're trying to provide legislative oversight over the "schools whose hats aren't so white." For the institutions' sake and by extension for the students' sake, let's be sure not throw the baby out with the bath water. And this legislation could do just that. The Senate needs to carefully craft a bill that, if eventually passed and signed into law, very specifically hones in on and addresses the traits it believes detrimental to the student and to the taxpayer. But it needs to do that without placing the institutions wearing the "white hats" in an untenable position detrimental to the very students the Senate is trying to safeguard.
Sound Off...What do you think? Join the discussion...
Bill to grant Post 9/11 GI Bill to surviving spouses.