Good for-profit colleges can help veterans succeed

Having spent over thirty years in the United States military, and retiring from the Army with the rank of brigadier general, I entered civilian life with good opportunities to both continue my service to the country and find ways to provide for my family.  However, most men and women leaving the military do not have as many options as I had.

I currently volunteer with the University of Southern Mississippi – my alma mater – to help identify educational opportunities for recent veterans. Therefore, I understand the challenges associated with helping military personnel prepare for life after their service.

{mosads}In the military, the role of for-profit colleges is a real hot button issue.  On Capitol Hill, at the Department of Education, and in the Pentagon, I know there are discussions being had about how to deal with this situation. Understandably, people are concerned that current service members spent $540 million dollars in FY 2013 on tuition assistance at for-profit institutions like Phoenix, Capella and Kaplan.

Complicating this matter is that not all for-profits are created equal.  Corinthian College — and its subsidiaries — knowingly misled students about their prospects for finding a job after they completed their degree.  That, and other misdeeds led the government to take aggressive steps to put the school out of business.

On the other hand, the for-profit college American Military University (AMU) – which is part of the American Public University Systems (APUS) — does a good job and for that reason, is the number one choice of active duty military looking to take classes while they are in the service. Nearly 30 APUS graduate students and alumni have been honored as Presidential Management Fellowship finalists, one of our country’s most prestigious programs designed to encourage and support leadership and public service.  Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), a vocal critic of the for-profit industry, praised AMU for accomplishing its mission.  On top of that, the school hasn’t raised tuition rates in 14 years.

Because veterans who enlisted in the military after September 11th, have a higher unemployment rate than the general population, our leaders in government have a real challenge ahead of them: How to preserve access to the good for-profits like AMU, but put the bad ones out of business.  And, simultaneously avoid putting up roadblocks for our service members looking for opportunities to prepare themselves for the civilian job market.

Our leaders are making this issue harder on themselves by using arbitrary funding formulas to determine whether or not a school is doing a good job. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) is trying to pass legislation, which would include military benefits in the 90/10 Rule.  The rule is a federal regulation that prevents for-profit schools from making more than 90 percent percent of their profits from federally subsidized loans.  The thinking behind this rule is that if a for-profit is a good school, then at least 10 percent of students will actually use their own money to attend.

However, if a school focuses on helping disadvantaged students or the military, they could get caught-up in the 90/10 Rule regardless of the quality of education they provide. If Durbin was successful in passing this new law, it would certainly block students from attending bad for-profit schools, but it could also keep them out of good schools like AMU. If anything, this legislation will create more unemployed veterans, not less.

What many people who have never served our nation in the military fail to understand is that there is a reason active duty and recent veterans are attracted to for-profits.  At AMU, service members receive school credit for their military training and the classes offered tend to appeal to people with a background in the armed services.  This gives for-profits a leg-up on traditional universities and community colleges.

I do sincerely appreciate that Washington is concerned about protecting the men and women who serve our nation from predatory for-profit colleges. I also believe they need to understand that if they take away access to the good for-profit schools it would only make it harder for our veterans to find jobs.

Harrington served in the Army for over thirty years and was commander of Task Force Storm, which provided counterinsurgency support in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.  He also led Task Force Engineer, which facilitated recovery and stability efforts in South Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.

Tags Richard Durbin Tom Harkin

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