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VA college comparison tool generates excitement

Feb. 5, 2014 - 11:25AM   |  

Outside groups are buzzing about a new college comparison tool being developed by the Veterans Affairs Department.

The VA has yet to release the tool online, but Ryan Gallucci, deputy legislative director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the department showed him a preview version that could help vets gain a better understanding of prospective schools, as well as their own benefits, on one, simple webpage.

“We’re really excited about it,” Gallucci said. “We think it will serve as a one-stop to just get some very basic information that used to be scattered across not just the VA website but other government websites.”

For its own part, VA is saying little about the project, though the department did provide a brief written statement.

“VA is currently developing a new GI Bill Comparison Tool that will allow students to research and compare schools. Once it becomes available to students, the tool will be one item in a series of resources VA is launching” in the wake of the White House’s Principles of Excellence for military education, the statement said.

VA would not say when the tool will be released.

Gallucci expressed some frustration that it was not yet available to vet students, months after he saw the demo version. But he added that the department may just be “crossing their ‘T’s and dotting their ‘I’s.”

Joe Wescott, president of the National Association of State Approving Agencies, a consortium of groups that approve schools for GI Bill eligibility, indicated that he thought that was the case. Wescott hinted during the Student Veterans of America National Conference on Jan. 2 that VA’s pace and caution could be related to the problematic rollout of the Affordable Care Act health care exchange website.

“VA, I can tell you — and I’ve talked with them as late as this week about that — they’re going to be careful about that, because the administration wants to make for dang sure that the next website that gets rolled out in Washington works,” Wescott said.

Gallucci said the demo that he saw showed whether a school is eligible to accept the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit, participates in the Yellow Ribbon program and signed on to the Principles of Excellence. It also showed academic success indicators for schools, such as how graduation and loan default rates compare to national averages.

But more than just telling you about schools, the tool can tell you about your own benefits, he said. One feature allows vets to enter information about their eligibility level for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and get back information on how much of a housing stipend could be expected for a particular school, based on the school’s location.

Gallucci said the demo he saw did not calculate how much money, if any, a vet would have to pay out-of-pocket for tuition at each school, based on the vet’s benefit level and the school’s costs and policies, but he added that he expects such a feature could be developed in the future.

Overall, Gallucci gave VA credit for “taking the initiative” to develop what could become a very useful tool.

“It combines things that used to take 10 or 15 clicks to find on the VA website,” Gallucci said. “We feel that this is a good, first-step solution to make sure that veterans can easily find reliable information on the VA website.”

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