A group of lawmakers proposes to prevent any school from receiving all of its funding from federal education programs, including the GI Bill and military tuition assistance.
Their goal is to limit some for-profit schools’ practice of recruiting service members and veterans to take expensive courses of limited value.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., a Navy veteran and chief Senate sponsor the Military and Veterans’ Education Protection Act, acknowledged at a Thursday press conference that the path ahead could be difficult, but added: “We have already accomplished something by introducing the legislation,” he said.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., the chief sponsor of the House version of the bill, was more upbeat. “We are on a mission here, and we are going to deliver,” she said. However, she said the for-profit school industry is strong and expected to fight.
A statement on the bill from the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities is fairly moderate, however. The association’s president, Steve Gunderson, said his group is working with Congress, the Obama administration and veterans’ groups “to find positive and constructive solutions that both protect our veterans and their access to educational opportunities.”
The new bill seeks to improve the quality of education at for-profit schools by preventing any institution from surviving solely on federal aid. It would do this by preventing schools from receiving more than 90 percent of tuition from federal education programs, including all money from Education Department grants, GI Bill and survivors’ education programs from the Veterans Affairs Department, and tuition assistance from the military services.
There is such a rule on the books today, but the 90 percent cap applies only to programs funded by the Education Department, such as Pell Grants. Programs funded by the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments, such as the GI Bill and tuition assistance, do not count against that cap.
That allows schools to fill the other 10 percent of their student bodies with veterans using the GI Bill or service members using tuition assistance — with the federal government ultimately paying for the education of every student at those schools.
“I don’t believe in this day and age that any school should get 100 percent funding from the federal government,” said Carper, who said he believes requiring 10 percent of tuition to come from students’ pockets will improve quality by allowing the free market to control the product.
A 90 percent limit on federal funds may not stop some of the abuses, however. At a press conference unveiling the bill, Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., described a recruiter from a for-profit school who was signing up students at a wounded warrior barracks at Camp Lejuene, N.C. — including brain-injured combat veterans who did not know what they were signing or what courses they were supposed to be taking.
There are military regulations that could have prevented the recruiter from getting into the barracks, but the new education protection act would not apply any new restrictions or punishments for similar behavior.
Tom Tarantino, deputy policy director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the bill would be helpful to veterans, if enacted, not by preventing deceptive recruiting but by forcing schools to improve the quality of courses in order to get more students to pay their own way.
“Ultimately for us, this is about jobs,” he said. “We need to insure veterans who use the GI Bill to take courses can use that education to get a job.”