GI Bill Benefits on the Brink

For-profit Ashford University, facing loss of access to GI Bill benefits by month's end, needs approval from a state to stop thousands of student veterans from losing aid.

June 10, 2016

Roughly 5,000 veterans attending for-profit Ashford University may lose access to their GI Bill benefits in three weeks.

It's partly due to a decision Ashford made a year ago to shut down its physical campus in Clinton, Iowa. In July 2015, Ashford University -- and its parent company, Bridgepoint Education -- announced that the campus would close this May. The residential campus closed last month, however, staff and academic services needed for the institution's teach-out were moved to a separate Iowa-based online facility. On May 20, the Iowa Department of Education notified Ashford that it would no longer continue to be approved for GI Bill benefits after June 30.

In a statement to Inside Higher Ed, Bridgepoint said, "The [Iowa state approving agency's] actions were based on a misunderstanding that Ashford would no longer be operating in Iowa. In fact, Ashford's Clinton ground location will continue to educate a final cohort of students who need additional time to complete their programs and to graduate. Graduations that could occur as late as May 2017, depending on student progress. Moreover, Ashford will continue to maintain an approved Iowa physical presence of approximately 150 employees, including the team that certifies [Veterans Affairs] benefits."

According to the federal veterans' agency, if Ashford's online programs are not approved before July 1, more than 5,000 students could be affected.

According to the Iowa education department, Ashford was authorized as part of the institution's teach-out plan to have until June 2017 to recommend student candidates for licensure, so, for instance, they can work as teachers.

"Ashford has students who will complete their student teaching no later than the end of December 2016 as part of the teach-out plan," Staci Hupp, communications director for the Iowa department, said in an email. "This is because students may need multiple attempts to pass assessments. This teach-out plan provides extra time to complete assessments only -- no classwork, no supervision, no tuition, no interaction. As part of the teach-out plan, many students have been accepted into other institutions."

The potential loss in approval for veterans' benefits is just the latest piece of bad news for the company. Last month the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission subpoenaed the institution in relation to investigations by the California attorney general's office and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau focused on Bridgepoint's finances.

While Ashford is trying to persuade Iowa to change its view, the university is also seeking alternative approval through the California State Approving Agency for Veterans Education. That agency received an initial application from Ashford for approval of training veterans at Ashford's San Diego location on June 1. As of June 8, CSAAVE began processing Ashford's application and will now complete a comprehensive review before making their decision.

If Iowa holds to ending Ashford's access to veterans' benefits at the end of this month, that gives the California agency just three weeks to approve the institution without a possible disruption to students accessing their benefits.

"CSAAVE is working closely with Ashford and [the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] to expedite the process," said Keith Boylan, deputy secretary for the California Department of Veterans Affairs, in an email.

In the meantime, Ashford notified students about the potential disruption in a June 6 Facebook post. That same post indicated that some students were also separately notified by the VA about the potential change.

"Ashford's priority is to ensure that students using VA education benefits experience no disruption in their educational benefits. Ashford is working with the [VA, Iowa and California] to resolve the situation before the end of the month," said the company statement.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, if the online programs aren't approved before July 1, students will still be able to finish any term they started before June 30, however, they won't receive benefits for any future enrollments unless they are approved by the California agency. The federal agency is advising students to visit their website for more information.


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