DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS ASKS INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION TO COMMIT TO UNANNOUNCED PRINCIPLES OF EXCELLENCE
On April 27, 2012, President Obama signed Executive Order 13607, "Establishing Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses and Other Family Members" (the "EO"). Aimed at ending aggressive and deceptive targeting of service members and veterans by some educational institutions, the EO creates a new regulatory framework applicable to all educational institutions receiving funding from military and veterans' educational benefits programs (the "Institutions").
As the hallmark of the EO, the President requires the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Education (the "Agencies") to establish Principles of Excellence to govern all Institutions. The Principles of Excellence must, pursuant to the EO, require Institutions to provide eight certain disclosures and protections for individuals eligible for military and veterans' educational benefits programs (the "Eligible Individuals"). For example, one of the most significant aspects is the new, broad requirement that Institutions provide educational plans for all Eligible Individuals. Other required disclosures and protections relate to existing legal requirements, such as the requirement that Institutions seek the approval of their accrediting agency prior to offering a new course or program.
To date, the Agencies have not promulgated the Principles of Excellence or provided any written guidance for the Institutions regarding compliance or implementation.
By letter dated May 31, 2012, the Department of Veterans Affairs (the "VA") requested Institutions to publicly commit to the unannounced Principles of Excellence. The VA asked Institutions to express their commitment by replying with an email and a written confirmation of the Institution's intent to adhere to the Principles of Excellence. On June 29, 2012, the VA established that the deadline for Institutions to reply via email and letter is August 1, 2012. Understandably, Institutions across the country are wary of committing to the standards and requirements that have yet to be promulgated.
The VA maintains a publicly accessible list on the GI Bill website of Institutions committed to the Principles of Excellence and may post a list of Institutions that have not committed or responded to the VA. The letter does not set forth any legal ramifications an Institution will face if it does not commit to the Principles of Excellence at this time.
It is unclear what impact the Principles of Excellence and the new regulatory regime will have on Institutions. We recommend all Institutions confer with legal counsel regarding an appropriate response to the VA's letter and their preparation for compliance with the Principles of Excellence.