On April 27 President Obama issued an Executive Order directing that a set of principles be designed to protect veterans and service members who receive federal education benefits. To help reduce aggressive and deceptive recruiting practices, the order instructs the secretaries of Education (ED), Defense (DOD), and Veterans Affairs (VA) to develop "Principles of Excellence to strengthen oversight, enforcement, and accountability" within the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Tuition Assistance Program.
The Principles would require institutions receiving federal military and veterans educational benefits to provide additional disclosures and educational plans to students and provide refunds on a pro-rata basis. Specifically, for all individuals receiving veterans and military education benefits, institutions would need to:
- Provide a "Know Before You Owe" form to help a prospective student understand the total cost of an educational program, including tuition and fees; any benefits or financial aid the student would qualify for; estimated loan debt upon graduation; and information about student outcomes.
- Explain to students all federal aid they would be eligible to receive, including military and veterans benefits and federal financial aid.
- Provide an educational plan detailing how the student will fulfill graduation requirements and a timeline for doing so.
- Assign a point of contact for counseling.
Additionally, institutions would be required to "agree to an institutional refund policy that is aligned with the refund of unearned student aid rules applicable to Federal student aid provided through the Department of Education under Title IV...when students withdraw prior to course completion." This means that institutions would have to agree to follow-at least for veterans and service members-a pro rata refund policy through 60 percent of a term. ED policies require institutions to use this formula in determining how much aid may be retained but do not dictate institutional refund policies.
DOD and VA will include the Principles in new agreements concerning participation in the Yellow Ribbon and Tuition Assistance programs "to the extent practicable and permitted by law." Institutions participating in the Post-9/11 GI Bill will be "strongly encouraged" to comply with the Principles, and a list of those that do will be posted on the VA website.
VA, ED, and DOD will be required to implement a centralized complaint system for students receiving Federal military and veteran educational benefits to register complaints that can be tracked by relevant agencies. To prevent fraudulent and deceptive marketing practices, the government must protect the term "GI Bill" and other related military and veteran terms as trademarks.
The timeline for implementation is unclear. Immediate action is called for, with the agencies ordered to report their progress to the president within 90 days. However, these agencies are not generally known for speed. The VA has still not revised its regulations to incorporate statutory changes enacted in December 2010, and issues with the DOD Memorandum of Understanding for the Tuition Assistance program are not yet resolved.