Higher ed law fails its mission to protect deserving military-connected students

Higher ed law fails its mission to protect deserving military-connected students

This past week, nearly a dozen national veterans and military service organizations assembled on Capitol Hill in a united front to voice their concerns about the House of Representatives’ Higher Education Act reauthorization, known as the PROSPER Act.

The PROSPER Act — which could head to the House floor on June 18 — would roll back major progress made protecting our nation’s warriors and their family members. These are vital protections and, if ended, will make higher education more expensive for service members, veterans and their family members. That’s why 35 veterans and military service organizations representing millions of veterans, their families and survivors oppose the PROSPER Act.

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The proposed legislation fails to protect military-connected students harmed by predatory and fraudulent practices by bad actors in higher education. The PROSPER Act would enable colleges to use deceptive recruitment practices that emphasize enrollment numbers rather than positive student outcomes.

 

The PROSPER Act would eliminate the 90/10 rule — a requirement that proprietary schools receive no more than 90 percent of revenue from federal student financial aid. For almost two decades, this rule has curbed abuse by proprietary schools receiving Title IV funds, such as the Pell Grant and federal student loans, ensuring no more than 10 percent of their revenue came from the federal government. The PROSPER Act would eliminate this protection altogether.

With no more revenue restrictions, proprietary schools would be free to receive 100 percent of their revenue from the federal government, inadvertently federalizing private corporate entities, as neither state nor private nonprofit institutions receive 100 percent of their funds from federal money. Eliminating the 90/10 rule, with nothing to replace it, allows predatory institutions to fill their coffers on nothing but the backs of military-connected students using their hard-earned education benefits.

Not only would this bill fail to curtail predatory, targeted recruitment of military-connected students, and the federal education benefits earned by these students, it also would eliminate safeguards intended to protect them and their families from long-term financial distress. It would repeal the gainful employment rule — a critical provision that protects students from the lowest quality educational programs that are overpriced and lead to low-paying jobs or no jobs at all.

Additionally, it would eliminate the existing protections for students who have been legally defrauded, known as borrower defense, and put in place new rules that make it more difficult for defrauded students to have their loans discharged.

Military-connected students should have access to an education that is valuable throughout their lives, and one that does not place them on a trajectory to financial ruin. But the PROSPER Act would reduce access to education by increasing the cost of college for all students, including military-connected students. Specifically, it would eliminate the subsidized Stafford Loan, which does not accumulate interest while a borrower is in school. With approximately 200,000 service members collectively owing more than $2.9 billion in student debt, elimination of this subsidized funding directly impacts service members and veterans and makes higher education thousands of dollars more expensive.

The PROSPER Act also would eliminate Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which encourages borrowers to enter public service careers and give back to communities. The Department of Defense has issued position papers opposing the PROSPER Act because PSLF is essential to military recruitment and retention. The Department of Veterans Affairs similarly relies on this recruitment and retention tool to staff VA medical centers. Finally, veteran service organizations and nonprofits that support military families and survivors of the fallen rely on PSLF to aid recruitment and retention.

The investment our country makes in educating veterans and their loved ones has a substantial impact on the United States. Military-connected students are among the most successful students in higher education, and they are some of our most deserving. Any reauthorization of the Higher Education Act should protect students, while investing in the future of our country’s heroes. The PROSPER Act fails that fundamental obligation. The bill is a good bill for bad schools, not for service members, veterans and their families.

Tanya Ang is policy director of Veterans Education Success, which offers free legal services, advice, and college and career counseling to veterans, service members and their families who faced college fraud or abuse in using the GI Bill.

Lauren Augustine is vice president of government affairs at Student Veterans of America (SVA), a nonprofit organization with more than 1,500 chapter affiliates that offers programs and services to veterans.

Barrett Y. Bogue is vice president for public relations and chapter engagement at SVA.