Washington Watch: Concerns over VA’s plans for new enrollment system, 85/15 rule


After the higher education community noted its concerns in a joint letter, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) no longer plans to transition to a new enrollment management system (EMS) in mid-January. Instead, the transition will occur in early March.

In a December 6 letter, the American Association of Community Colleges and other higher education associations expressed concerns over the VA’s plan to transition from its current EMS, VA-ONCE, to a new system right as many colleges would be starting a new semester. Colleges and universities use the current system to submit the certifications necessary for veterans and their dependents to receive their GI Bill benefits.

The VA previously announced that VA-ONCE’s shutdown would include a blackout period that would last until the end of January, when the new system, Enrollment Manager, would come online. During the blackout period, schools would have been unable to submit certifications, possibly resulting in veterans experiencing delays in receiving their benefits.

The associations’ letter also asks VA to provide more training to school certifying officials (SCOs) on the new system. To date, there’s been little training, and it is unclear how many SCOs even know of the impending transition. An online workshop offered in mid-November was marred by technical difficulties.

Finally, the letter urges VA to ensure that SCOs continue to have access to information about prior certifications that may be needed to comply with audits or other queries.

Needed clarification on 85/15 rule

In another letter, AACC and other higher education associations commented on VA’s proposed regulations regarding the “85/15” rule, which renders programs that are comprised of more than 85% veterans and other “supported” students ineligible for veterans education programs.

The rule follows recently passed legislation that clarified Congress’s intent that institutions where veterans constitute less than 35% of the student body are not subject to the 85/15 rule. VA had been unnecessarily requiring all institutions to report information on all its programs to show they each complied with the 85/15 rule, regardless of whether they met the 35% exemption (which the vast majority of institutions do). The legislation was intended to put a stop to that.

The December 12 letter from the associations urges VA to reinforce this Congressional intent by including a provision in its regulation that clearly states institutions that meet the 35% exemption are not subject to the 85/15 rule. The proposed regulations do not mention the 35% exemption at all.

About the Author

Jim Hermes
Jim Hermes is associate vice president of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.