Senators Question For-Profit Colleges’ Use of Military Tuition Aid
Two senators used a congressional hearing on Wednesday to examine the amount of DOD Tuition Assistance funding is going to for-profit colleges that often deliver questionable outcomes. The Tuition Assistance (TA) program has been growing rapidly with roughly 115,000 service members currently enrolled. In fiscal year (FY) 2012, DOD spent $660 million on Tuition Assistance – half of which went to for-profit schools. More than 36,000 military spouses access courses through the Military Spouse Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) program and in FY 2012, DOD spent $66 million on MyCAA – 60 percent of which went to for-profit schools.
At the hearing, before the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, Senators Richard Durbin (IL) and Jack Reed (RI) called for stricter accreditation standards and criticized for-profit universities, like DeVry, as using slick marketing tactics to get a larger cut of federal dollars. Sen. Durbin has long been a critic of the for-profits.
The hearing seemed to revive Sen. Durbin’s efforts to pressure the for-profit sector to increase value for military members after he tried last year to reduce the percentage of federal dollars those universities could keep as income. But now Mr. Durbin focused on improving standards at the universities eligible to receive the $660 million that DOD budgets for military tuition assistance. “This program needs to be improved, and I think it can be,” he said. “We need to take a hard look, starting with accreditation. Some of these schools should not be accredited. There ought to be some policing” within the for-profit sector. Federal law makes military tuition assistance an exception to the “90/10” rule, which allows for-profit colleges to receive no more than 90 percent of their revenue from federal sources. That exception has led Democratic lawmakers to raise their eyebrows at the high number of service members at those colleges.
Durbin first discussed his intent to hold a hearing on the issue last month saying, “There have been colleges providing valuable education to members of the military for decades and I think we can continue that tradition, but I have a serious concern about for-profit schools. We know from studies that students attending for-profit colleges have lower success rates – including graduation rates, employment outcomes, debt levels and loan default rates – than similar students in public and non-profit colleges. I think once we start weeding out the money that is wasted on these for-profit colleges there may be more resources available for valuable education.”
Testimony most critical of for-profit colleges came from Mr. Christopher Neiweem, an Iraq War veteran who previously worked as a recruiter for the for-profit DeVry University. Mr. Neiweem said management at DeVry scolded recruiters if they could not persuade service members and veterans to enroll, creating “a business culture that emphasized hasty enrollment over student needs.” He said, “It’s a profit-driven industry.” If applicants “had an objection, we were supposed to work through it.” He added that TA dollars are called “the military gravy train;” for-profit recruiters are told to pose as “military advisers;” and managers push recruiters to get TA “asses in classes,” even service members deployed to war zones, scolding recruiters who raise concerns about war zone deployments and telling them they work for DeVry, not the Defense Department.
Immediately after Neiweem’s testimony, Sen. Durbin turned to Steve Gunderson, the head lobbyist for the association of for-profit colleges, and asked what possibly might be the financial incentive for predatory for-profits to go after military money so hard. Mr. Gunderson said there was no incentive, so Durbin directed Gunderson to explain 90/10 “for the record.” Gunderson then said that GI Bill dollars and TA dollars are not federal funds (because students can decide where to spend them). Of course all Education aid is the same – students get to choose but they’re still federal dollars. Durbin said if he is being asked to appropriate money for TA and GI Bill in federal appropriations, they sure are federal funds.
Mr. Gunderson, a former member of Congess, contended that poor-performing universities existed in every part of higher education and that the senators were demonizing the for-profit sector. He also cited the federal government’s insufficient data-collection systems as a barrier to proving which colleges had served students best.
Ranking Member Thad Cochran (MS) said both for-profits and traditional schools should have access to the military but that it should be concomitant with meeting the needs of service members.
Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education (ACE), urged the Defense Department to work more closely with the Department of Education to track colleges’ performance. “We must root out the bad actors, no excuses” he said, but also asked that any new laws or rules take into account the impact on regular schools too. He continued, “All of us have come to realize in the last few years that there was not the attention paid to the outcomes and the impact on the individual service members that I think we should have.”
Parenthetically, none of the witnesses could cite a case of a “bad actor” being rooted out by their organizations.
Hearing materials, include archive video, are available at: http://www.appropriations.senate.gov/ht-defense.cfm?method=hearings.view&id=3f3ad71e-2ee7-4e14-b4f9-8b67aea4c947
LEGISLATIVE DIVISION ACTIONS
Legislative Staff Members Hold Meetings
Legislative Division staff members met with House and Senate staff this week regarding the ongoing VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) funding issue to exchange ideas in order to work toward a solution. There is a hearing scheduled for June 27 aimed at examining the possible options regarding a workable solution. The Congressional Budget Office and VA will testify, and The American Legion will submit written testimony for the record. The American Legion continues to monitor this issue and work with Congress and VA in order to find a solution to ensure that veterans receive the care they deserve.
U.S. Army’s Birthday
Today, Friday, June 14 is the Army’s 238th Birthday. Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago, on June 14, our nation’s leaders established a professional American land force – the Continental Army – beginning a heritage of successfully defending this nation and its citizens.
The American Legion salutes the Army’s birthday today as an opportunity to reflect, celebrate, and remember. May the Army continue to meet all challenges to our national security and ensure the readiness, health, and welfare of America’s sons and daughters who enter and serve in the Army. We also salute and remember all those Soldiers who have honorably served and those now serving our nation. On the 238th year of our Army, we also commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Korean War and the 40th anniversary of the All-Volunteer Force.
Letters of Support
The American Legion sent on June 7 a letter of support to Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (NH), giving our organization’s support for her amendment to H.R. 1960, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2014. This amendment would expand and clarify the term “covered waste” that lists prohibited hazardous waste items that may not be disposed of in open-air burn pits used by the Department of Defense. This amendment will enable the nation to ensure we do not create another generation of veterans to suffer from toxic environmental exposures while in service to their country. [Resolution 95-2012]
Update on Flag Amendment Bill
On May 22, House Joint Resolution (H.J. Res.) 47 was introduced by Rep. Spencer Bachus (AL). This legislation is a proposed constitutional amendment to protect the American flag from physical desecration. Its text states simply: “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.” The measure now has 9 cosponsors.
The next task is finding cosponsors for this legislation. Please contact your representative and senators, and ask them to become cosponsors of the flag amendment in their respective chambers. [Resolution 272-2012]