For-profit colleges overall have experienced enrollment growth that has far outpaced their counterparts among public and private nonprofit institutions.
One of the fastest-growing types of students enrolling in for-profit schools, however, is using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. That law, which went into effect last year, was strengthened by the recently passed Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act.
The law provides education and housing for people with at least 90 days of military service on or after Sept. 11, 2001, or who were honorably discharged with a service-connected disability within 30 days.
Tuition payments through the GI Bill are based on the highest in-state tuition charged by a public college or university in the recipient’s state. Housing payments are based on military housing allowances.
The New York Times reported this month that, in the first year of the program, more than 36 percent of the tuition payments went to for-profit colleges.
That comes at a time when for-profit colleges are under more scrutiny, not only from the Education Trust but also from the Government Accountability Office and some congressional representatives, because of their soaring enrollments and profits.
A GAO report issued in August found that four for-profit colleges "encouraged fraudulent practices" and that all 15 it studied "made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements" to GAO’s undercover applicants. It cited as examples an admissions aide telling an applicant to fraudulently remove $250,000 in savings so the person could qualify for more financial aid, and staffers "commonly told GAO’s applicants they would attend classes for 12 months a year, but stated the annual cost of attendance for nine months of classes."
The GAO revised its report this month. The revisions softened some of the allegations the agency made in its original report, but it did not back away from its overall conclusion that for-profit colleges engage in misleading practices. It did not identify the institutions by name in either version of the report.
The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities issued a statement highly critical of the GAO’s first report after the agency revised it.
"We … understand that there are findings that stand as reported in August and have been working diligently to address them," the statement said. "At the same time, this new information is highly material in the debate over the value provided by private sector higher education. We express our dismay over a process that was flawed, a story that was essentially incorrect, and the harm the original report delivered to the sector and the 3.2 million students who attend private sector colleges and universities."
Some veterans who are attending for-profit Virginia College’s Augusta campus say they are satisfied with their education.
"I would rate it as excellent," said Cecilia Hutton, 29, who is pursuing an associate degree in surgical technology. "The actual instructors for surgical technology are not just people who are just teachers, but they have actually worked in the field for years."
Hutton said the GI Bill paid 80 percent of Virginia College’s tuition cost and federal Pell Grants covered the rest, so she will not have debt.
Jennifer Lipzer, 25, also was in the Army. She served in Iraq for 2 1/2 years. She is pursuing an associate degree in medical assisting and plans to graduate in March. The GI Bill covered her tuition, so she, too, will be debt-free.
Lipzer said she plans to start working on a nursing degree at Augusta Technical College. Hutton said she plans to start working on a bachelor’s degree in surgical technology, at Virginia College or perhaps Augusta State University. She would prefer Virginia.
"I did consider a couple other schools" for the two-year degree, she said, listing Augusta Tech and ASU. "But the atmosphere was not as student-friendly as Virginia College’s atmosphere."