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Colleges in Hot Pursuit of Military Veterans and High Profits

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Veterans and active members of the military have been enrolling in college at significantly higher rates over the past two years. It is believed that the group is being aggressively recruited by for-profit colleges thanks to the increased education benefits now provided by the Post-9/11 GI bill of 2008.

Benefitting Whom? For-Profit Education Companies and the Growth of Military Educational Benefits, a new report issued December 9, 2010 by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, shows a dramatic increase in Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs funds flowing into for-profit education companies.

Post-9/11 GI Bill Represents Lucrative Income for Some Colleges

For-profit colleges are already a hot topic among the government for several different reasons, two of which being their low graduation rates and the fact that many are earning as much as 85 to 90 percent of their revenues from federal financial aid money.

Both veterans and active members of the military have become attractive to for-profit colleges because their education benefits do not count toward the federal regulation which requires the schools to earn at least 10 percent of their revenue from sources other than federal financial aid. This rule was created in the early 1990s to prevent colleges from relying solely on federal aid programs for profits, but the GI bill and Department of Defense tuition benefits are not considered federal financial aid money because they are not student loans or Pell Grants.

For-profit colleges only serve only about 9 percent of the overall population at institutions of higher education across the country, but data compiled by the Department of Veterans Affairs shows that over 36 percent of the tuition payments made in the first year of the Post-9/11 GI bill went to for-profit colleges. Tuition at for-profit colleges is much more expensive than at it is other schools.

Veterans Benefits Received by For-Profit Colleges Increasing by Millions

Senator Harkin’s report says that between 2006 and 2010, combined Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs education benefits received by 20 for-profit education companies increased from $66.6 million to a projected $521.2 million.

This money represents a fast-growing source of revenue for the for-profit college industry.

The Huffington Post mentions Senator Harkin’s previous Senate committee report issued in September, which found that 57 percent of students at 16 for-profit schools analyzed between July 2008 and June 2009 had withdrawn within a year.

“For-profit schools see our active-duty military and veterans as a cash cow, an untapped profit resource. It is both a rip off of the taxpayer and a slap in the face to the people who have risked their lives for our country,” said Senator Harkin.

The New York Times spoke with Jason Deatherage, who worked as military admissions adviser at Colorado Technical University until this spring, when he believes he was fired for not meeting his quota. “Instead of helping people, too often I felt like we were almost tricking them. There is such pressure to simply enroll more vets — we knew that most of them would drop out after the first session,” he said.

Colleges and Lobbyists Disagree with Report

The colleges and their supporters reject those claims.

“We offer the flexibility and career focus they want,” Bob Larned, the executive director of military education at ECPI College of Technology, told the New York Times. ECPI is a Virginia institution with a large online program and campuses in three states. The company collected $16 million in G.I. Bill benefits in the first year.

Harris Miller, president and CEO of the industry lobbying group Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, agrees. Miller said that the growth of military and veteran students at for-profit colleges has occurred because the schools offer them flexibility and career training needs.

Mixed Reactions from Veterans and Military Students

Veterans and military students report mixed feelings about their experiences at for-profit colleges.

Navy veteran Jason Longmore spent six months at Westwood College in Denver before concluding that the degree was not attractive enough to employers. He then repeated classes elsewhere before he was able to transfer credits to a Colorado state university. “I felt like I made a horrible, horrible decision,” he said.

According to the Washington Post, veteran Will Sampson drove 80 miles roundtrip five nights a week to attend night classes at ECPI College of Technology while he was still an active-duty Marine. He said he earned a degree that helped him land an information technologies job at a North Carolina bank.

Senator Harkin’s research has found that although some for-profit colleges do offer flexible education and training programs, many are expensive to attend, plagued by manipulative and deceptive practices used to recruit veterans and members of the military.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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