Government Asks Colleges to Agree to Veteran-Friendly Policies

June 05, 2012

The Department of Veterans Affairs is encouraging colleges to adopt a set of veteran-friendly consumer policies, despite concerns from some higher-education groups that the guidelines are unclear.

In a letter distributed to colleges last week, the VA said colleges have until the end of June to declare their intent to follow a set of "Principles of Excellence" laid out in an executive order issued by President Obama in April.

Any college that does not respond by June 30 risks "not being shown as having agreed to comply with the Principles," the letter said.

Some higher-education groups say that while they support the goals of the executive order, they are worried that some of the requirements have not yet been sufficiently defined.

What's more, creating a list of institutions in compliance with the principles would be "premature" at this point, said Margaret Y. Baechtold, legislative director of the National Association of Veterans' Program Administrators.

"There's an awful lot of unclear language in there," said Ms. Baechtold, who is also director of veterans' support services at Indiana University at Bloomington.

Without further guidance and clarification, she said, she would be "hard-pressed" to recommend that colleges commit to following the guidelines. Colleges will very likely find that, despite their best intentions, they are unable to pledge compliance with some of the principles, she says.

For example, Ms. Baechtold said, institutions cannot accurately advise prospective students about their financial options and military benefits before enrollment, as called for by the principles, because such benefits are often contingent on enrollment. In addition, she said, colleges do not have access to federal agencies' benefit-eligibility information that they need to counsel students on their benefit options.

The Department of Veterans Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.

Barmak Nassirian, who until last week was associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said that without further definition of the principles, the department's list could create an artificial and misleading distinction among institutions.

The result could be two lists, he said, "with the worst predatory actors on the 'good' side and the nation's finest schools as 'not being shown as having agreed to comply with the principles.'"