- - Monday, March 1, 2021

Dropping current military students and denying future ones their college education is what passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 27 and is what the Senate will be considering this week.

These lawmakers took military education benefits and added them into an arbitrary political calculation that will result in hundreds of thousands of active duty service members and veterans at risk of losing educational opportunities that they have earned for serving their country.

Active duty service members and veterans of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and National & Reserve Guard along with their families would be dropped because schools would be in violation of this new law with military revenue inserted in a formula with educational grants and loans.

Denied in the future because schools would be forced to enroll civilian over military students so they don’t go over a certain revenue limit. Sound unconscionable? Well, it is.

Two paragraphs tucked in an unrelated 100-page bill on COVID-19 relief that had no hearings to discuss the pros and cons is disrespectful given the gravity of the inevitable adverse consequences of this measure. The language was purposefully vague, unlike the numerous other times when proponents previously tried to pass this provision in Congress. It should be pulled from the COVID-19 legislation and be heard and debated on its own merits.

At issue is a federal rule known colloquially as “90/10,” which caps at 90% the share of revenue for-profit universities and colleges can receive from the Education Department’s student grants and loans. The problem lies with lawmakers who want to count the military’s earned education benefits from the Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments in the 90 numerator of 90/10.

The 10% of revenue is everything else. These earned benefits are not grants and loans, and should not be treated as such. After initial training, active duty service members are able to earn education benefits. They are compensation paid for their service. 

Highly critical of this legislative initiative is a February 2021 research paper titled “Collateral Damage: How an Expanded 90/10 Rule is a Misguided Policy for Protecting Military Students.” It was written by two American Enterprise Institute scholars for a veterans group — the Veterans Education Project. 

As a 2018 90/10 paper from the Senate Education Committee concluded, “90/10 is neither a good accountability tool nor a measure of quality,” but rather a regressive indicator of how much the federal government is able and willing to support low-and-middle-income students. More importantly, setting an arbitrary ratio ostensibly for the sake of accountability misses the reality that universities and colleges are ultimately judged on their ability to produce positive outcomes for students, including helping them graduate and getting a job.

These efforts to curtail educational options that have been earned by our troops would be deleterious. An analysis by NDP Analytics in 2019 found that over a decade, 1.8 million veterans alone could lose access to their postsecondary education programs. The reverberations for our enlisted force could be even more significant. With college programs limited or completely shut off from access, it would hurt the Pentagon’s ability to recruit, as they do with a primary offering of education benefits, and develop the skills and expertise needed for troop readiness. 

That’s why lawmakers should stop playing games with military education benefits. Weaponizing federal rules governing these earned benefits is an unconscionable attempt to break our commitment to these brave men and women who serve our country. War and other assignments interrupt their education. Government should not put up more obstacles that prevent them from choosing the college of their choice because of an arbitrary political calculation over the tax status of a higher education institution.

Government may prefer in-person learning, but service members who have day jobs and veterans who tend to be working adults with families need quality online courses since they cannot sit in a classroom. Nor should government treat these warriors as ignorant children saying that they cannot make these adult decisions on their own. It is insulting.

Adding to this controversy is that the rule is discriminatory by not being applied across all post-secondary institutions –- both public and private schools.

These earned military benefits should be respected and not at all a part of any 90/10 calculation for any private or public university or college.

• James C. Roberts is president of the American Veterans Center and a Navy veteran.

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