Concern about for-profit schools justified
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, unveiled a massive report, July 30, that calls into question tactics used by for-profit schools in recruiting veterans with GI Bill benefits.

Concern about for-profit schools justified

In a July 30 news conference, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, unveiled a massive report on what are being called questionable business practices pursued by some for-profit schools, many of whom target military veterans in their student recruitment efforts.  

The voluminous report from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions – which Harkin chairs – details, in part, special efforts made by the schools in question to recruit GI Bill beneficiaries in order to exploit a regulatory loophole. A federal regulation referred to by Harkin as the “90-10” rule mandates that at least 10 percent of the schools’ revenue be derived from sources other than the U.S. Department of Education in the form of Pell Grants for disadvantaged students. GI Bill benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs meet this 10-percent criterion.

Harkin explained how the VA education benefits are being manipulated by the schools to their advantage. “One of the things that intrigued us as we started this investigation was ‘why did the for-profit industry move so aggressively in the last couple of years towards veterans and active duty personnel?’” he said. “Well, because of the 90-10 rule a lot of these schools were ‘bumped up’ against the 90-10. In other words, they couldn’t recruit any more students because they were at 90-10. However, for every single military person they recruited, they could go out and get nine more people.”

Among the speakers at Harkins’ news conference was Amy Wilkins, vice president for Government Affairs and Communications at The Education Trust, a nonprofit organization billing itself as devoted to reform in K-12 education. She also addressed the reported victimization of veterans by saying, “As somebody who has benefitted from the service and sacrifice of the men and women in the military who are too often abused by these colleges, I want to say ‘thank you’ for this report.”

The American Legion has been concerned about some for-profit schools’ questionable business practices, as well as their high dropout rate among veterans, the lack of job market viability of the academic credentials they award, and the financial burdens they impose upon veterans. The report’s findings regarding the victimization of veterans are posted online.

“But, it’s not just about veterans,” said Joe Sharpe, director of the Legion’s Economic Division. “This is a matter every taxpayer should be alarmed about. After all, it is our money that is being wasted in the millions by the bad actors in the education business.”

Sharpe also said the Legion will continue its vigilance and work toward reform of the for-profit school industry where needed. “The Senate committee report alerts us to the problem,” he said. “The job now is to fix it.”  In October 2011, Legion leadership adopted a resolution to “Support Regulation of For-Profit Schools and State Approving Agencies.” It called upon the organization to “support oversight and legislation evaluating post-secondary education institutions on quality factors such as accreditation, transferability, cost, graduation rates, acceptance in the job market” as well as to “pursue opportunities to educate veterans and military members on selection and attendance at post-secondary education institutions.”  The resolution also “expresses…strong support for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) regulations (in) requiring for-profit institutions (to) be held to the same standards and criteria as non-profit institutions for the purpose of approval for use of VA education benefits.”

Finally, the Legion statement reads, “RESOLVED, That The American Legion support legislation to provide additional resources and increased funding for the State Approving Agencies, assuring continuation of its primary responsibility and focus to review, evaluate and approval of quality programs of education and training, and oversight of for-profit institutions are aligned with state and federal criteria on behalf of student veterans.”