Judith Flink, Executive Director of University Student Financial Services for the three campuses of the University of Illinois, testified on behalf of NACUBO at a May 16 congressional hearing focused on President Obama's recent Executive Order. The Order calls for principles of excellence for educational institutions serving veterans, service members, and their families. Flink was one of 12 witnesses representing veterans' organizations and other higher education and related associations. Major General Robert M. Worley II USAF (Ret.), the newly appointed Education Service Director at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), testified on the VA's behalf.
Subcommittee Chairman Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) scheduled the hearing, "Examining Views on Executive Order #13607 and Its Impact on Schools and Veterans," to solicit views on potential challenges to implementation and estimated new costs and administrative burdens affiliated with the Order, as well as to examine how institutions monitor recruiting and marking practices.
Flink began her testimony by urging establishment of an official advisory group to address the challenges inherent in the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Department of Defense (DOD) Military Tuition Assistance (TA) program. "I believe this will go a long way to bring consensus and efficiency to colleges and universities, our partner agencies in the Federal government, and service members alike," she said. Several other members of the witness panel also called for greater communications and an avenue to ensure the voice of institutions are heard within the Pentagon and the VA when it comes to establishing rules and procedures for these programs.
"We believe most, but not all, of the President's principles align with existing U.S. Department of Education (ED) requirements," Flink continued. "Those principles, if implemented by DoD and VA, according to ED guidelines, will not inflict additional cost or burden on our member institutions. But we do have serious concerns about some of the other provisions and their potential implications."
Specifically, Flink voiced NACUBO's desire for greater clarification on the Executive Order's requirements to:
- Provide prospective students, prior to enrollment, an individualized standard form with cost and financial aid information (using a prototype of the standardized financial aid award letter being drafted by ED and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau).
- Allow service members and reservists to be readmitted to a program if they are temporarily unable to attend class.
- Agree to an institutional refund policy aligned with the rules for unearned student aid developed by the Department of Education.
- Provide educational plans for all individuals using federal military and veterans' educational benefits.
The requirement in section 2(h) that institutions "designate a point of contact for academic and financial advising...to assist service member and veteran students and their families..." is particularly difficult to comply with constructively and effectively, Flink stated. She noted, "College and university advisors cannot assist veterans who have debts to settle with the VA, or inform them about the consequences of failing to make payment arrangements, if we do not know the debt exists...nor can we help veterans resolve payment discrepancies when VA staff members refuse to speak with us." Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN) shared the frustration Flink expressed about VA's tightly held control over most veteran information. Walz retorted, "Good luck," and shared a story about the difficulties he had encountered when trying to assist veterans with other benefit programs in his home district.
In closing her testimony, Flink reiterated the commitment of NACUBO's membership to our service members. "We understand the need to protect our returning soldiers from unscrupulous practices, but we have significant concerns with the implementation of the requirements in the President's recent Executive Order," she said. "We believe that further clarification and discussions are necessary so that all parties can gain understanding and move toward consensus on developing an efficient, sensible policy."