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Win for Ashford in Battle Over GI Bill Benefits

April 30, 2018
 
 

Iowa's Supreme Court has tossed out a lower court's decision in the long-running legal battle over Ashford University's eligibility to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

The state's approval agency in 2016 attempted to strike the for-profit university's eligibility, citing a previous decision by Ashford to close its physical location in the state. The university and its holding company, Bridgepoint Education, sued to block that decision, which could have meant that it would no longer be able to enroll veterans nationwide, as it had registered for GI Bill eligibility in Iowa. Arizona, however, later granted Ashford that status. But the legal battle in Iowa continued.

Last July an Iowa district court issued a setback to Ashford, dismissing its petition to block the loss of eligibility. The university later halted enrolling veterans as new students. Meanwhile, California's attorney general sued Ashford for allegedly making false promises to students, among other allegations, and Democrats in the U.S. Senate called on the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs to take additional steps to protect veterans and current members of the U.S. military who are enrolled at the university.

The for-profit appealed the district court's decision. And the state's Supreme Court last week backed its move to have the lower court's decision vacated.

The decision last week found that Eliza Ovrom, the district court judge, failed to disclose in a timely manner family ties to the state office of attorney general, which had been involved in the Ashford dispute. (Ovrom's son is an assistant attorney general who works in a child-support unit, and her husband is a consumer advocate for the state's utility board, according to the Supreme Court's ruling.)

"The issue is not whether Judge Ovrom’s ruling was correct or incorrect, but rather whether she should have been in a position to rule at all," the court said. "As in many ethical issues, it is the appearance of a lack of impartiality that is at the heart of Judge Ovrom’s failure to disclose a potential conflict. Had she done so, and assuming she would have recused herself at an earlier stage of the proceedings in response to a similar request, she would logically have not been the author of any such rulings."

Ashford can resume its legal challenge to the state's move to yank GI Bill eligibility, according to the ruling, and it will retain that eligibility for now. The university is again enrolling new students who receive GI Bill benefits.

In March the university announced that it plans to convert to a nonprofit, with Bridgepoint serving as an online program management (OPM) for Ashford and potentially other universities. Ashford's regional accreditor is expected to make the call on that attempt as soon as June.

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