Biden signs bill clarifying VA 85-15 rule

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Dive Brief:

  • President Joe Biden signed a bill into law Friday that clarifies an exception to the 85-15 rule, a statute meant to prevent veterans from enrolling in low-quality college programs. 
  • The 85-15 rule bars students from using education funding from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, such as GI Bill benefits, to pay for academic programs where more than 85% of students receive VA aid. 
  • Colleges that enroll low shares of veterans can receive exemptions from the rule, but recent VA regulatory changes created headaches for institutions that qualify for the exemptions. The new law aims to streamline that process.

Dive Insight:

The 85-15 rule intends to prevent fraud and abuse by ensuring at least 15% of students in academic programs are not using VA benefits to pay for them. The reasoning for the rule is that high-quality programs are more likely to attract nonveterans who are paying out of pocket. 

Colleges where veterans make up less than 35% of total enrollment are exempt from the 85-15 rule. But the VA recently changed its policies regarding the rule, including by requiring colleges to compute 85-15 ratios for their programs — even if they had already been exempted. 

The American Council on Education, a prominent higher education lobbying group, has said these changes put colleges in a “Catch-22,” where they had to compute ratios for every program before they received their exemptions. 

The new law clarifies the exemption, stating that colleges do not have to follow the 85-15 rule if their share of students who receive VA benefits is below 35% of their institution-wide enrollment. The law, which has been making its way through Congress for several weeks, went into effect when it was signed Friday.

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