The Senate passed a bipartisan bill that clarifies an exception to the 85-15 rule, a law that requires colleges to enroll at least 15 percent of students who are not veterans that receive federal military funding to pay for college in each academic program offered.
The bill is expected to pass in the House when it meets during its August recess to vote on the Inflation Reduction Act.
Under the 85-15 rules, colleges must submit an annual report to the Department of Veterans Affairs on the number of students who receive VA benefits to ensure they stay within this threshold. If a program violates the rule, veterans enrolled will lose their GI benefits that cover tuition, fees and other costs. The rule was intended to prevent veterans from using their GI benefits toward unsatisfactory programs.
Under the 85-15 Rule, colleges with small populations of veteran students are able to apply for an exception from these annual reporting requirements if they can demonstrate to the VA that less than 35 percent of students enrolled on campus receive GI benefits. This exemption, however, was rescinded in July 2021, and the VA required all colleges to reapply for their exception and to demonstrate that each of their programs reached the 85-15 threshold.
The VA also made changes to what is considered a “supported student” to not just veterans receiving GI Bill funding, but any student who receives GI benefits, which includes military family members in addition to veterans. As a result, many campuses found they exceeded the 85-15 rule, despite the fact that there was not a single veteran enrolled in the program.
A letter from 15 prominent organizations representing higher education sent to leadership in both the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs in June expressed concern with the current rules around 85-15, stating that it placed a burden on colleges that enroll low numbers of veterans.
The bill would codify the 35 percent exception as well as clarify the 85-15 rule. It also streamlines the application process for colleges that apply for the exception.
According to the letter, sent to leadership in both the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ ;Affairs, the legislation is supported by 15 prominent organizations representing higher education, including the American Council on Education, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, and the Council of Graduate Schools. It is also supported by Career Education Colleges and Universities, which represents for-profit colleges.