In a letter
to congressional leaders, a coalition of higher-education groups write that on September 15 the VA issued “internal policy guidance that appears to confirm” that the federal agency is interpreting a provision of the recently passed THRIVE Act to mean that Congress intended to prohibit incentive compensation for foreign students.
The policy guidance “has brought a new urgency to the need for technical corrections,” the 17 associations write, asking lawmakers to enact such a fix. Without it, colleges that use agents in international recruiting could risk jeopardizing GI Bill funding.
The legislation took effect August 1.
The Higher Education Act has long blocked the use of incentive compensation in domestic recruitment, but it explicitly permits the practice overseas, since international students don’t qualify for federal financial aid. But the veterans-education bill lacks such a carve-out, putting it in conflict with the HEA.
Most observers had assumed that the little-noticed provision was an oversight or an error, but the VA’s guidance suggests it could interpret the deviation from longstanding practice as congressional intent. Brian Whalen of the American International Recruitment Council, which trains and sets standards for agents and the colleges that use them, called that “shocking.”
“The possibility that Congress intended to prohibit the use of incentive compensation to recruit international students is deeply concerning,” he said.
The coalition letter said that higher-ed groups raised concerns about the provision earlier this summer, prior to a House hearing in July on implementation of the law.
AIRC is asking its member colleges to contact the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees to ask for a technical correction to the THRIVE Act. NAFSA, which signed the association letter, has also sent its own letter
About half of all colleges surveyed earlier this year by AIRC and the National Association for College Admission Counseling said they used agents as part of their overseas recruitment strategy.
While the practice has grown more accepted — the U.S. State Department dropped its opposition to agents a few years ago — it remains less widespread among American colleges than in competitor countries like Australia and Britain.
The language on agents is not the only provision in the THRIVE Act with international impact. In the letter, the associations also ask Congress to change another provision, which would require colleges to provide students who are veterans with estimates of cost and financial aid for the duration of their studies. While the consumer-information provision is well-intentioned, the groups said, it could force some foreign universities to stop participating in VA programs. Requirements for institutions to open their student records to inspection by VA staff violates national privacy laws in some countries.