The Department of Veterans Affairs on Thursday retreated from plans to bar five schools, including for-profit behemoth the University of Phoenix, from enrolling new students using GI Bill benefits, delivering a blow to veterans groups that wanted the agency to crack down on deceptive recruiting and advertising practices.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie had threatened in March to impose sanctions against the schools following investigations by the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general that claim they used misleading sales tactics to lure veterans and their families. The colleges — the University of Phoenix, Colorado Technical University, American InterContinental University, Bellevue University and Temple University — were given 60 days to address the problems or lose access to the GI Bill benefits of new enrollees.

On Thursday, VA spokeswoman Christina Noel said the agency believes the five schools have taken “adequate corrective actions to avoid suspension,” including restitution to affected students, improved oversight of communications with students and changes in university leadership and marketing practices.

“VA will continue to act in the best interest of our nation’s servicemembers, veterans and taxpayers, and we look forward to working with these schools to ensure they fulfill the requirements for GI Bill enrollments,” Noel said in an email.

Education funding earned by men and women who serve in the U.S. military has become a stable source of revenue for many colleges. But veterans groups say that some schools have failed to provide a high-quality education and that the federal government has shirked its responsibility to act. Veterans groups had hoped VA would step up but began to lose faith when the agency issued guidance in May dialing back its requirements for the five schools to remain in good standing.

At the beginning of May, career staff at VA provided the schools a list of steps they could take to prevent future problems, including hiring an independent auditor to routinely review advertising material and recruiting practices. Weeks later, the agency told the schools those recommendations were not requirements. As long as they stopped engaging in abusive practices and took steps to comply with regulations, the GI Bill funding could continue to flow.

Noel denied speculation that VA was pressured to relax its standards, insisting that its actions were “based on application of governing statutes and regulations.”

“The only winners today are the schools that used their money and political influence to evade the law and harm veterans,” said Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success, an advocacy group. “We appreciate the staff at the Veterans Benefits Administration who tried to follow the law and protect student veterans.”

From the outset, the schools facing suspension said the allegation against them were unfounded.

The University of Phoenix, the largest recipient of GI Bill education benefits for more than a decade, said VA’s decision “vindicates” the principle “that student veterans have earned the right to choose the institutions that best fit their needs.”

In a statement, the university pointed out that VA has conducted more than 130 compliance reviews at its locations since 2013 and never cited findings related to deceptive or misleading marketing. The federal agency’s scrutiny of the school stems from a five-year FTC investigation.

The commission claims that the University of Phoenix ran an advertising campaign that featured Microsoft, Twitter, Adobe and Yahoo, giving a false impression that the school worked with those companies to employ its students. There was no such partnership, according to the FTC, a charge the university disputes. The case resulted in a $191 million settlement in December, in which the university denied wrongdoing.

A separate FTC investigation of Career Education Corp., owner of Colorado Technical University and American InterContinental University, is also credited with VA’s scrutiny of the for-profit schools. The company, now known as Perdoceo Education Corp., agreed to pay $30 million in August to resolve allegations that it misled consumers about its affiliation with the military. The company denied all wrongdoing.

Bellevue University in Nebraska was caught in VA’s crosshairs after the state attorney general accused the school in February 2019 of misleading nursing students about the accreditation status of one of its programs, allegations the school denies. Temple’s Fox School of Business, meanwhile, was the subject of investigations in 2018 after being accused of inflating the rankings of its online MBA program.