Veterans hurt by predatory for-profit colleges by Charlene Crowell

11/15/2019, 6 a.m.
Nov. 11 is observed as Veterans Day every year. It’s a time to honor the 18.2 million men and women ...
Charlene Crowell

Nov. 11 is observed as Veterans Day every year. 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.

Veterans Day also is 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, Veterans Administration home loans enable veterans to have their own piece of the American Dream. And who wouldn’t want a federal assurance that the nation would pick up the tab on health care?

So why is it that veterans seeking to gain updated and marketable skills in a technology-driven economy become prey to for-profit colleges?

Marine Corps Maj. Chris Davis 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,” Maj. Davis wrote 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” Maj. Davis refers to are for-profit colleges that typically charge higher tuition and fees for enrollment than public or nonprofit institu- tions. Many of these schools have low graduation rates and/ or lower earnings than those promised, even after 10 years in their respective fields. 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 mar- keting 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, an 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,” Ms. Ang added.

Ms. Ang’s concerns are bolstered by a recent Government Accountability Office 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 closed with little to no notice in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

At the time of Corinthian Colleges’ closure, more than 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 veterans-students.

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 veterans. 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 also could be eligible for Pell Grants and/or Direct Federal Student Loans available through the U.S. 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 percent of all funds received by for-profit colleges come from federal sources.

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.

The writer is communications deputy director with the Center for Responsible Lending.