By the end of May, the first stage of a revamped veterans’ compliance reporting system should be ready, according to presenters at AACRAO’s 2016 Annual Meeting—and that new system is promising to be a “near-term ecosystem win,” said Rick Torres, president and CEO of National Student Clearinghouse and moderator for the panel discussion that included expert school administration and student veteran representatives.
The “ecosystem” of veterans’ educational benefits includes, most importantly, the student veterans themselves, as well as the institutions they attend and the government agencies that define and provide those benefits. The goal of the reengineered system is to streamline the veterans compliance reporting process and alleviate the burden its complex requirements have placed on veterans and schools.
“Two years ago, several school registrars approached Clearinghouse because we saw an opportunity to better serve institutions and students,” said panelist Shelby Stanfield, Vice Provost and Registrar at the University of Texas at Austin. “We saw an increasing workload with regard to certifying veterans for benefits and we wanted to know how we could collect, aggregate and report this information more effectively. The Clearinghouse seemed like a natural partner because of the data they already collect, and because they operate a trusted, private, secure and transparent environment. We thought there might be an opportunity to leverage that relationship.”
Comparing the current situation with veterans’ benefits to the state of affairs with NSLDS reporting before Clearinghouse, Stanfield noted that the paper-driven, manual entry system can be more prone to errors and inefficiencies. “When you look at the process model, the vulnerabilities in data access and integrity—as well as what it takes to train staff—it’s more than what meets the eye,” Stanfield said.
According to panelist Chris Cate, Vice President of Research at Student Veterans of America, creating a new platform with Clearinghouse would help remove redundancies in reporting but still allow institutions to maintain control of data.
“This will help student vets get timely reporting,” Cate said. “Veterans are unique in that they are in transition a lot.”
“Because the Clearinghouse is already collecting course, grade, degree, enrollment and major information to support other services, adding veterans’ status to that file seemed like a simple modification that made sense,” said Scott Owczarek, University Registrar at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“The proposal we took to the VA included a collaborative partnership with short-term wins, long-term vision and future possibilities,” said presenter Doug Falk from the Clearinghouse. “We’re asking them to allow the Clearinghouse to submit this data, which requires us to create an interface with the VA system—a measurement platform. That will set the stage for enhanced veteran transition logistics and create an enhanced benefit tool with integrated debt and financial aid information in the long term.”
The proposal has three stages:
Stage 1: VA allows NSC to work with their technology team to develop a batch files update that allows VA_ONCE to accept date from NSC for completions. [Goal: May/June 2016]
Stage 2: VA allows NSC to work with the technology tem to develop a direct input interface that allows VA-ONCE or VACERT to accept data from NSC for completions, bio-data and terminations. [Goal: 12 months]
Stage 3: VA allows NSC to work with tech teams to develop eligibility and certification interfaces between NSC and VA-ONCE or VACERT covering certification and recertification. [Goal: 12-18 months]
“We chose to start with completion data because it looked like an easy win,” Owczarek said. “We can build a relationship with the VA and demonstrate the efficacy of the proposal. The VA was receptive so that’s where we started.”
After looking at the information in the files with school certifying officials, the team found they only have to add three data elements to the current degree file being sent to NSC to accomplish the first stage of the proposal. The institution will then need to amend their MOU with NSC to allow the Clearinghouse to send that information to the VA. Those three elements are the VA file number, the suffix in addition to veteran/dependent, and the chapter.
In order to accomplish the second stage of the proposal (bio-data), only six additional data elements need to be added—the VA file number, payee number, veteran chapter, facility code, previous training valuation and active duty status.
“We’ll have improved efficiency, increased service to veterans, and better data analysis and information,” said Owczarek.
“In the longer term, we hope to coordinate with the VA to provide an integrated portfolio view for veterans,” Falk said. Additional benefits to veterans, Cate added, include speed of getting to eligibility determination, increased levels of support, minimization of overpayment and debt and preservation of benefits.
Panelist Marc Barker, president of the National Association of Veteran Program Administrators and Director, Adult Learner and Veteran Services at Colorado State University, said that school certifying officials can also expect to benefit from the reengineered program.
“SCOs are in a labor-intensive, manual processing job,” Barker said. “When we started having this conversation, we had some people who were worried they were giving away the job of the SCO. But we’re trying to elevate their role on campus. This system will help them have better real-time data to support questions their students have. If the SCO doesn’t have to spend all of his or her time putting data into two separate systems, they can instead be having intelligent conversations with student veterans about their benefits. That’s what they want to be doing.”
In addition, institutions will reap benefits including improved efficiency, minimized institutional debt, reallocation of staff from veterans paperwork processing to support staff, simplifying admissions and matriculation, and scalability.
“Of course, there are still thousands of questions and timing issues we need to think through, but this is an exciting opportunity,” Owczarek said.
“In all my years with Clearinghouse, this is the project that’s nearest to my heart,” Torres said. “This is something I really believe in and we are determine to achieve.”
For more information, visit https://studentclearinghouse.info/studentvets/. The full presentation will be posted at that link in the coming days.