By Charlene Crowell
Every year, the 11th day of the 11th month is observed as Veterans Day. It’s a time to honor the 18.2 million men and women still living who served in at least one war. Though observances vary across the nation, each celebrates the American ideal of service to country.
It’s also a time to remember that our nation makes promises to these patriots that must be kept.
From health care to home loans and educational benefits, our nation supports the well-being and financial security of those who have served and their families. For example, VA (Veterans Administration) home loans enable veterans to have their own American Dream. And who wouldn’t want a federal assurance that the nation would pick up the tab on health care?
When it comes to the transition from military to civilian life, many veterans rely upon GI benefits to financially support their efforts to receive higher education and better incomes without incurring thousands of dollars of student debt.
So why is it that veterans seeking to gain updated and marketable skills in a technology-driven economy become prey to for-profit colleges?
Major Chris Davis with the United States Marine Corps observes that these valued educational benefits are making targets out of vets.
“The GI Bill is a promise between Americans and the service members who protect our freedom from all threats,” wrote Major Davis in a recent blog. “My friends and fellow veterans did not spill their blood on foreign lands to return home and be taken advantage of by collegiate con artists.”
Many of the “con artists” Major Davis refers to are for-profit colleges that typically charge higher tuition and fees for enrollment than do public or nonprofit institutions. Many of these schools have low graduation rates and/or lower earnings than those promised — even after 10 years in their respective fields. Beyond these significant concerns, since 2012, for-profit college closures have left many veteran students with few, if any, of their GI educational benefits left. College credits earned at these closed schools frequently are not accepted at other institutions.
“That VA has not invoked their authority to ban schools that engage in deceptive marketing for almost 50 years is a missed opportunity to do what is right for military-connected students in higher education,” said Tanya Ang, Vice President at Veterans Education Success, a veteran advocacy organization dedicated to advancing higher education success for veterans.
“We urge VA and their Office of General Counsel to review the relevant statute and act now to protect veterans from predatory schools,” added Ang.
Ang’s concerns are bolstered by a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found more than 7,000 veterans receiving Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits were attending schools operated by Corinthian Colleges and ITT Educational Services when the institutions respectively closed with little to no notice in 2015 and 2016.
At the time of Corinthian Colleges’ closure, over 72,000 students were enrolled. The next year, ITT’s closure of 136 campuses affected 35,000 students. Other for-profit closures by Education Corporation of America in 2018 and The Art Institutes and Argosy University – both owned by Dream Center Education Holdings — literally added thousands more exploited veteran students.
According to the GAO report, “[V]eterans can face challenges transferring credits and continuing their education at a new school. This may make it more difficult for veterans to complete their degrees before exhausting their eligibility for Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.
For-profit schools had lower 4-year program graduation and retention rates, according to the GAO report, compared to public and nonprofit colleges.
Under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, since 2009, the VA has paid $94 billion in two ways. College tuition and fees are paid directly to schools, while an additional monthly housing benefit and stipend for books is paid to vets. Those who served on active duty for 36 months can access this benefit that amounts to $24,477 for the 2019-2020 academic year. Depending upon other circumstances, veterans could also be eligible for Pell Grants and/or Direct Federal Student Loans available through the Department of Education.
For-profit institutions that enroll veterans accessing both federal loans through the Department of Education and Post 9/11 benefits can derive nearly all of their revenues and subsequent profits from federal taxpayer dollars. Such scenarios exploit the original intent of the 90/10 rule which requires that no more than 90% of all funds received by for-profit colleges from federal sources. Post 9/11 benefits are not counted in the 90%, hence the term, “the 90/10 loophole” and the practice of targeting veterans by for-profit colleges.
It’s enough to make a sensible taxpayer question whether for-profit colleges are in the business of educating veterans and other consumers or simply gouging the goodwill of taxpayers.