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Senate passes bill to restore rule 85-15

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The Senate passed bipartisan bill which clarifies an exception to Rule 85-15, a law requiring colleges to enroll at least 15 percent of non-veteran students who receive federal military funding to pay for college in each academic program offered.

The bill is expected to pass the House of Representatives when it convenes during the August recess to vote on the Inflation Reduction Act.

Under Rule 85-15, colleges must submit an annual report to the Department of Veterans Affairs on the number of students receiving VA benefits to ensure they stay within that threshold. If the program violates this rule, registered veterans will lose GI benefits that cover tuition, fees and other costs. The rule was intended to prevent veterans from using their GI benefits for substandard programs.

Under Rule 85-15, colleges with a small student veteran population can apply for an exemption from these annual reporting requirements if they can demonstrate to the VA that less than 35 percent of the students enrolled on campus receive GI benefits. However, that exemption was revoked in July 2021, and the VA required all colleges to reapply for the exemption and demonstrate that each of their programs met the 85-15 threshold.

The VA also made changes to what counts as a “supported student” not only for veterans receiving GI Bill funding, but also for any student receiving GI benefits, which includes military family members in addition to veterans. As a result, many campuses found themselves exceeding the 85-15 rule despite not having a single veteran in the program.

A letter from 15 prominent organizations representing higher education sent to leadership of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs in June, expressed concern about the current rules by about 85-15, saying it places a burden on colleges that enroll small numbers of veterans.

The bill would codify the 35 percent exemption and also clarify Rule 85-15. It also simplifies the application process for colleges claiming the exemption.

According to a letter sent to the leadership of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees, the legislation is supported by 15 prominent higher education organizations, including the American Council on Education, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the Council of Higher Education. It is also supported by the Colleges and Universities of Career Education, which represents not-for-profit colleges.

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