Senate Promises to Step Up Scrutiny of GI Bill Abuses By Some For-Profit Schools

This Sunday The Virginian-Pilot published a story on a veteran who was looking to attend an institution of higher education following his service in the military.

After an honorable discharge from the Navy, Tyson Randolph decided to attend college on the new GI Bill. He looked at four local schools with long histories, but in the end he opted for a relative newcomer to the Hampton Roads higher-education scene: South University.

South University is one of the emerging actors in the for-profit education industry. As the article pointed out, more than 20 for-profit schools have moved in to Virginia Beach in the last few years.

The piece goes on to quote some individuals who say veterans may be better suited to some for-profit schools:

Kevin Kinser, an associate professor with the State University of New York at Albany, studies for-profit schools. "These institutions have positioned themselves as the option for working adults," he said. "And the military fits that to a ‘T.’ "

[…]

Harris Miller, president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, a trade group for the for-profit industry, said the schools are a more natural fit for veterans. "They are focused on just the education, not all the frills," he said. "They’re older. They’re not interested in how to date or how to drink beer, they’ve already done that in the military."

But while veterans may be choosing for-profit schools over beer in Miller’s eyes, it’s hard to ignore troubling aspects of the for-profit schools’ marketing campaigns. The marketing to low-income students and veterans has been so heavy that a blog on the Department of Veterans Affairs site, VAntage Point, recently warned that veterans should be wary of sites that claim to help with GI Bill benefits (h/t Mother Jones):

Go to Google and search for “GI Bill schools.”  The first link you get isn’t a page run by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The first result is GIBill.com, and it uses the name of the most recognized public education program in existence to its financial benefit.  It appears to be a legitimate site for information, but a cursory search of its privacy policy shows it is owned by an online marketing firm that, according to a major business publication, specializes in directing students to for-profit schools through its page.  It’s a questionable marketing strategy that seeks to legitimize a page that serves little purpose other than to funnel student Veterans and convince them their options for education are limited to their advertisers.  There are 6,500 schools across the country that allow GI Bill benefits; only use VA’s school locator to find qualifying programs.  Avoid suspicious websites drowning in advertisements.

This is possibly because for-profit schools have a financial interest in recruiting veterans. While for-profit schools are limited by U.S. law to making 90 percent of their profits from federal financial aid, veterans’ benefits aren’t counted in that 90 percent total. That means that a school could, in theory, get 90 percent of its profits from federal student aid ant 10 percent from the GI Bill. Granted, not all for-profit schools do that, but in 2009, the Department of Defense dispersed more GI Bill benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill to six for-profit schools than any private or public non-profit school.

Senators have pledged to step up scrutiny on this front. Next week, the Senate subcommittee on federal financial management, chaired by Senator Thomas Carper (D-Del.), will hold a hearing examining some potential abuses of for-profit schools taking advantage of veterans and military personnel. “The Defense Department spent more than $517 million in 2009 on the tuition-assistance program, which gives as much as $4,500 a year to active-duty service members,” Bloomberg reports.

At a recent event sponsored by the advocacy arm of Campus Progress, a Navy veteran, Adam Gonyea, said he felt he received a poor-quality education and mistreatment from the for-profit ITT Tech. “The financial aid administrators at ITT seemed very skilled in finding funds for my education, including  grants and scholarships and even completed all of the paperwork for my G.I. Bill benefits. Unfortunately the bills started to come,” Gonyea said. However, he added, “The expensive tuition did not seem to go toward a quality education. I saw very little of the school’s income go to staff or equipment.”

However, as I’ve reported before, some veterans groups seem reluctant to take an official stance on regulations that would step up scrutiny of for-profit schools.

Though there certainly are schools that don’t take advantage of military veterans, it’s pretty clear that some do. Schools that take in large amounts of education benefits for veterans should be providing quality educations to them. The Senate is now stepping up scrutiny to make sure that’s the case.

CampusProgress.org

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