Be wary of for-profit colleges' charm offensive

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APSCU isn’t talking about the for-profits’ dramatically high dropout rates and dismal student outcomes; or their high-pressure, misleading, and aggressive marketing tactics; or their exorbitant tuitions; or the huge debt students acquire. For example, where a bachelor’s degree from a state university might cost as little as $24,000, a similar degree from a for-profit could cost as much as $88,000.
 
Student vets are particularly desirable sources of income because of their enthusiasm to gain a higher education, their GI Bill and other federal funds, and their access to loans. What is more, GI Bill dollars are not counted toward the federal cap on for-profit companies’ access to federal education aid (the so-called “90/10 loophole”). Each enrolled veteran gives a for-profit college unique access to tens of thousands of GI Bill dollars intended to help them get an education and launch their careers. Instead, these monies enrich the for-profit schools and leave our veterans high and dry. 


APSCU isn’t telling Congress that many of these taxpayer-dependent schools promise high-quality educations and “guaranteed jobs,” neither of which is delivered.  However, the student vets not only exhaust their GI benefits but also build up mountains of student loan debt while often receiving non-transferable credits, worthless degrees or no degrees at all.
 
In February, the APSCU acknowledged that there are serious problems in its industry, issuing the “Report of the APSCU Blue Ribbon Taskforce for Military and Veteran Education,” which called for various reforms to its recruitment and enrollment practices.
 
The industry is undoubtedly promoting this report as a panacea that will curtail unsavory practices. But that would be a disingenuous obfuscation of the truth. It merely glosses over the most serious issues and fails to address the predatory practices of unscrupulous companies aggressively targeting veterans.
 
The APSCU’s lobbying is part of its multi-million dollar campaign to hinder legislation and regulations that would close loopholes that allow them to continue taking advantage of taxpayers and student vets.
 
We ask Congress to look behind the curtain and see what the for-profit education industry is doing, not what APSCU’s leadership is saying. Members of Congress should protect our service men and women just as resolutely as they protected this nation.
 
Like many other vets, Theodore Gatti, Chad Putnam and Mae McGarry served in Iraq and Afghanistan and, when they came home, were entangled in a maze of for-profit schools’ empty promises. This Fall, they were among the recipients of aid from the Veterans' Student Loan Relief Fund, which provides grants up to $5,000 to qualified vets to help them dig out from under the debt burden accumulated.
 
Congress and the Obama Administration have begun to take steps to better defend our veterans from these predatory practices. The president issued an Executive Order and Congress passed bipartisan legislation – both measures require for-profit colleges to disclose more information about costs, financing, graduation rates and job placement rates.
 
On the local level, states’ Attorneys General in numerous states are mounting efforts to crack down on predatory practices. And, last year, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that closed various loopholes that these schools have exploited.
 
These are good first steps.
 
We call on Congress to stay vigilant, provide student vets the opportunity to go to community colleges where they have been stationed, and demand that all colleges, universities, and technical training schools deliver a high-quality education worthy of our veterans’ service to America.
 
And finally, we invite APSCU to look beyond its members’ narrow financial interests and join us in honoring the men and women who serve this nation.
 
Boulay is director of the Veterans’ Student Loan Relief Fund.

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