Legion: State Approving Agencies need more authority

A measure passed by Congress in 2010 has substantially altered the role of State Approving Agencies (SAAs) in their evaluation of academic programs that accept GI Bill funding.

The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act expanded GI Bill eligibility to for-profit institutions, non-registered apprenticeships, and many schools that are either new or non-accredited. Because of this expansion, Congress decided to reduce the work load of SAAs by exempting many other education programs from such scrutiny (if otherwise accredited).

As a result of the eligibility expansion, SAAs are no longer the primary entity for approving all GI Bill-eligible programs. The American Legion highlighted this new reality when it testified at a Nov. 19 hearing by the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. Testimony was presented by Steve Gonzalez, assistant director of the Legion’s Veterans Employment & Education Division.

While The American Legion welcomes the expansion of GI Bill opportunities for student veterans, Gonzalez said, “We find it problematic that SAAs have been removed from a large portion of the approval process. SAAs focus explicitly on the GI Bill and serve to protect it and, by extension, the veterans using it. They ensure that programs meet certain eligibility criteria, in order to see that the funds are not wasted, but are put to the best use possible."

Gonzalez told the subcommittee that SAAs are uniquely qualified to evaluate programs in their respective states, and that their oversight mission for GI Bill funding is distinct from other oversight and approving authorities.

The Legion believes SAA approval should work in tandem with other accreditation agencies, rather than along the sharp division mandated by the statute (P.L. 111-377). Currently, Gonzalez testified that SAAs, “lack the authority to inspect many questionable programs that have sprung up since the passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill at not-for-profit institutions. Given that the original mandate of the SAAs was to protect GI Bill funds from being squandered in unscrupulous programs, it seems reasonable that SAAs should be allowed to inspect all suspicious programs, even if they are housed in not-for-profit institutions."

The American Legion supports the portion of a legislative proposal, submitted by National Association of State Approval Agencies, that would statutorily make SAAs the primary approving body for all GI Bill-eligible programs.