Executive Director Update - July 27, 2017

This week, the House, as well as the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, approved a bipartisan deal to modernize the GI Bill, also known as the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, expanding financial contributions and flexibility for veterans to pursue higher education opportunities. It is expected to move to the full Senate soon.

The legislation fills coverage gaps in the post-9/11 GI Bill amid a rapidly changing job market, removing a 15-year time limit to tap into benefits and boosting money for thousands in the National Guard and Reserve. The legislation also gives veterans added flexibility to enroll in college later in life. AACRAO is proud to say that we were actively engaged with lawmakers and veterans groups leading up to this significant legislation.

In fact, AACRAO was one of two education groups at a meeting in May, where over 35 veteran and military organizations were present for a roundtable discussion on the proposed GI Bill and other pending legislation. The meeting, hosted by the American Legion, focused on 17 pieces of legislation to improve the nation's most popular education benefit program for veterans. It should be noted that these bills were shared with the Public Policy Advisory Group (PPAG) for feedback and comments, which we then shared with the groups.

One of the proposed bills up for discussion, the Veterans Education Priority Enrollment Act of 2017 (H.R. 1793), would have mandated institutions to provide priority enrollment to veterans. The House bill was introduced in March and then referred to committee, where discussions stalled. The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee considered the companion bill (S. 764) during a hearing in May. AACRAO submitted comments to the panel outlining a number of issues regarding certain aspects of the legislation.

Specifically, AACRAO cited concerns that a federal mandate would conflict with state or institutional policies and procedures. Several states already provide priority registration to veterans and there is little evidence of widespread issues with veterans registering for classes that would merit such a federal mandate. Additionally, AACRAO noted that such a mandate would set a precedent that could easily be applied to other categories of students and, more importantly, have adverse effects on students that truly need priority registration most.

In June, AACRAO and ACE met with Democrat and Republican staff from the House Veterans Affair Committee (HVAC) to express our concern/opposition to the House version of the priority registration legislation. House Committee staff were very open to our concerns and the issues the bill would create for some higher education institutions. As a result of this meeting and continued conversations with Veteran associations, the final version of the GI Bill includes a vastly different version of priority enrollment than originally proposed. In particular, instead of mandating priority enrollment for veterans, Section 303 is now a data collection tool on priority enrollment for Congress to gain a better understanding of how priority enrollment works at institutions across the country.

AACRAO is proud to have been able to represent our membership to educate congressional staff, as well as other organizations, to some of the unintended consequences of such a measure.

In addition, AACRAO participated in several other veteran gatherings. Specifically, the George W. Bush Institute's Military Service Initiative hosted "Stand-To – A National Veterans Convening" in June in Washington, D.C., with key leaders from across the public, private, non‐profit, and philanthropic sector to outline key priorities and an action plan to drive improved outcomes for veterans and their families. AACRAO was one of two higher education associations present during a working session where an action plan was developed on how to support transitioning veterans in education. AACRAO joined a number of veterans advocacy organizations, state agencies, and representatives from the Department of Defense on a working group to identify ways to improve the transition from service to higher education. Creating better mechanisms to connect service members with higher education institutions while they are still active duty and finding ways to better articulate their military training with their college degree requirements were some of the issues that were identified.

Also present at "Stand-To" was President George W. Bush, who announced a Veteran Leadership program that will target rising leaders working to improve veteran outcomes, whether they are veterans or non-veterans themselves.

AACRAO recognizes and honors the sacrifices of our veterans. On behalf of the AACRAO membership, we strive to do all we can to assist veterans and service members in meeting their educational goals.

H.R. 3218 - The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017


S. 1598 - The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017