By: Richard Cordray, Chief, U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid
Ten years ago this week, President Barack Obama issued an executive order that established guiding principles to protect veterans, service members, and their families who pursue higher education. These are known formally as the Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses, and Other Family Members. To apply these principles, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) works with the Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to ensure colleges and career schools provide quality educational opportunities to military-connected students.
The Principles of Excellence have helped millions of students by providing information about the financial cost and quality of schools, addressing abusive and deceptive recruiting practices, and making sure schools provide high-quality academic and student support. We and our partners created an interagency working group to share information and focus on these critical issues facing military-connected students. Our collaboration has produced these results:
- created ED’s online customer complaint system, the VA’s GI Bill® School Feedback Tool, and the DoD’s postsecondary education complaint system, all modeled after the CFPB’s Consumer Response Complaint System. These systems allow ED and our partners to act on direct feedback from military-connected students and better supervise, enforce, and monitor school conduct and performance;
- built on and upgraded ED’s College Financing Plan (previously known as the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet). Participating schools use this tool to provide veterans, service members, and their families with a standard set of personalized information about their financial aid offers so they know which colleges are most affordable;
- launched and regularly enhanced easy-to-use tools—like ED’s College Scorecard—to help veterans, service members, and their families make informed decisions about where to attend college and which programs to study;
- developed and published joint student outcome measures on ED’s College Navigator and the VA and DoD’s consumer tools. These measures capture important information about military-connected students’ experiences with higher education, allowing our partners to make improvements and to enhance oversight, compliance, and enforcement at participating schools; and
- shared information with our partners about complaints and other claims that some schools use misleading and deceptive practices to recruit military-connected students. We collaborated to spread the message of our recent FSA Enforcement Office bulletin warning schools that we will hold them accountable if they engage in such practices.
The working group and our interagency agreement remain just as relevant today as they were a decade ago. For example, we are working with Congress and our partners to close the persistent “90/10 loophole” that for-profit schools have exploited in pursuing veterans and service members to maintain access to federal student aid.
We also are assisting the VA as it implements the Isakson and Roe Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020 and the REMOTE Act. These two laws reinforce the Principles of Excellence by requiring schools to be approved to participate in the federal student aid programs before they can offer GI Bill benefits and by compelling schools to use ED’s College Financing Plan.
And through our partnership, ED, DoD, VA, and CFPB continue to share information about enforcement actions that could lead to a school losing its eligibility to participate in the federal student aid programs or other consequences.
Beyond our shared record of achievements and our ongoing initiatives, our work is not done.
As we observe the 10-year anniversary of the Principles of Excellence, the working group is seeking to enhance the available outcome measures for military-connected students. We are analyzing student experiences to determine actionable steps to ensure they stay enrolled and, ultimately, are successful in completing their programs of study. We also are focused on how we can better understand the later experiences of military-connected student loan borrowers after they complete their education. For example, we are working with our partners to ensure that more borrowers can attain Public Service Loan Forgiveness and the benefits of income-driven repayment plans as simply and easily as possible.
ED is grateful that our partners remain committed to the Principles of Excellence, which are key to protecting students and taxpayers. We also look forward to our further collaboration, which not only serves military-connected students, but also benefits all schools as these students contribute their unique background and experience to enrich our system of higher education.