Ashford University can continue enrolling students on the GI Bill — at least for now, the Veterans Affairs Department has confirmed.
The online, for-profit school that’s one of the top enrollers of military students was in danger of losing its eligibility to accept GI Bill funds last year after failing to maintain the appropriate state-level approval required for the veterans education benefit. That approval is still pending, but despite the VA’s Jan. 9 deadline, the federal agency has decided not to pull payments as it awaits a court appeal and a decision from the state of California.
“Otherwise, Ashford likely would have sought a stay from the court, which, if granted, may well not have required Ashford to apply to (the California State Approving Agency for Veterans Education),” VA spokesman Randy Noller said in an email. “In that event, VA would still be paying benefits and Ashford would not be undertaking any corrective actions.”
After closing its only brick-and-mortar campus in Iowa in 2016, Ashford lost its approval from that state and opened a campus in Phoenix, receiving a sign-off from the Arizona State Approving Agency. But the VA said in a November notice to Ashford that because the school’s main campus is in San Diego, Arizona did not have jurisdiction to approve Ashford. The notice gave the school 60 days to comply with the law.
California’s attorney general sued Ashford University Wednesday, alleging officials made false promises to entice students and illegally tried to collect their overdue debt. The online for-profit school educates thousands of active-duty and veteran students each year.
Shortly after, Ashford filed an appeal in federal circuit court, disputing VA’s interpretation of the law and arguing that unless the court intervenes, “VA’s precipitous and unlawful decision will force Ashford’s veteran students to face an unpalatable set of choices.”
The VA has moved to dismiss the case, VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour said Wednesday. The court could grant that dismissal in the next several months or choose to fully litigate the case, which could take about a year, he said.
Both Noller and Lauren Coartney, a spokeswoman for Ashford’s parent company, Bridgepoint Education, told Military Times the VA has agreed not to suspend GI Bill benefits at the school until a court decides on the appeal. Ashford was also required to apply for state approval in California, which Coartney said the school has done.
The Veterans Affairs Department “has made assurances that as long as Ashford pursues this application in good faith, it will continue to pay benefits, even as Ashford and the VA remain in negotiation over approval in Arizona,” Coartney said in an email. She added that the school has temporarily stopped enrolling new GI Bill students and is reviewing that decision at this time.
Noller said if the California agency approves Ashford, that decision “would bring Ashford into compliance with Federal laws and regulations, and prevent thousands of beneficiaries from having their benefits cut off.”