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VA clarifies college eligibility for veterans training program

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​In advance of the launch of the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP), the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) this week clarified a rule that might have prevented some community colleges from participating in the program.

VRAP, set to start July 1, is designed to help unemployed veterans ages 35–60 get workforce training through community colleges. However, community colleges that also award bachelor’s degrees were deemed ineligible according to VA’s criteria. That would have affected colleges in 18 states and Puerto Rico, including 23 of Florida’s 28 community colleges.

VA announced Wednesday that all two-year colleges listed on the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Educational Statistics College Navigator website are now considered authorized VRAP providers, as long as they are approved for GI Bill benefits by the state.

The change came after the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs—and particularly Rep. Gus Bilirakis from Florida—this week asked VA to reconsider its rules.

American Association of Community Colleges President Walter Bumphus also voiced his concerns in a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, urging for a “slightly more expansive definition of community college.”

The definition “should include those institutions at which the highest degree offered predominantly, but not exclusively, is the associate’s degree,” Bumphus said in the letter. Offering a small number of bachelor’s degrees “in no way transforms them into a fundamentally different type of institution,” he added.

VRAP is part of the 2011 VOW to Hire Heroes Act. Participants will receive training in one of more than 900 high-demand occupational fields while also receiving a year of Montgomery GI Bill benefits. The U.S. Department of Labor will provide veterans with employment assistance as well. Between July 1 and Sept. 30, VRAP will help 45,000 participants, and another 54,000 participants between Oct. 1, 2012, and March 31, 2014.