Wednesday, May 23, 2012

VCS Submission to House Veteran's Affairs Committee on For-Profit Schools

Official statement for the record of the U.S. House Veteran's Affairs Committee on behalf of Veterans for Common Sense, submitted 16 May 2012.

By Chris Miller and Patrick Bellon

The economic opportunities of America’s veterans are being threatened by bad actors in the for-profit education sector. After America’s young men and women in uniform have finally come home and hung up their uniforms for the last time they expect and deserve the right to pursue happiness like any other American and to enjoy the benefits that come along with having devoted years of their lives to serving their country. An important part of that pursuit is the ability to obtain higher education using the GI Bill, a program that not only benefits veterans, but the nation as a whole. The GI Bill is not only a successful veteran’s program; it is the most successful public education and employment program in American history.

Unfortunately, some are taking advantage of veterans and this successful program for their own profit in the name of greed. They mock the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. Troops still in uniform and veterans at home find their mailboxes, inboxes, and social networking pages filled with paper and electronic advertisements by for-profit universities. All of them claim to have veterans’ best interests at heart.

Unfortunately this is not true. The stories are becoming numerous, well known and difficult to explain away or excuse as isolated. For-profit recruiters sign up Marines who are being treated for brain injuries. Sailors are not being told that the classes they’re working hard on and their benefits are paying for won’t transfer to other schools. Soldiers are not informed that they’re paying many times what the same program would cost at a local community college. Airmen are finding that the support they were promised by recruiters is not there. Veterans are finding out that industry won’t recognize their qualifications and home town schools do no recognize the accreditation of their for-profit of choice. U.S. taxpayer dollars are lining the pockets of for-profit colleges rather than benefitting the veterans and servicemembers they’re awarded to. This is unacceptable. Our veteran’s futures must be protected.

Recently President Obama stood up to these bad actors and signed an Executive Order that goes a long way to begin to address the problem. The order will ensure troops get more information on costs, financial aid, graduation rates, support provided, and which colleges have agreed to cooperate. It will keep predatory recruiters off installations, prevent misleading advertisements using the term ‘GI Bill’, and orders further vigilance in acting against those for-profits that abuse or violate laws and regulations. The order is a leading step in the right direction. More needs to be done. Veterans and those still serving continue to be preyed upon by for-profit universities. While the EO is a much needed step in the right direction and should be supported by everyone who has veterans best interest’s at heart it is far from being enough. We need new laws to protect our veteran’s economic opportunities, so that they can make the best choices for their future and not be taken advantage of as a profit center.

Congress needs to take the lead by implementing measures to stop predatory practices by for profits. This is not political, it is not about free enterprise, it is about right and wrong.

Ideal legislation would address the following issues, only comprehensive reforms can protect our brave men and women. For-profits should not be allowed to use taxpayer funds for marketing essentially using taxpayer money to procure more taxpayer money by ripping off veterans. Veterans and service members must be informed in clear language about the transferability, industry recognition, and accreditation and graduation rates for the programs they’re considering undertaking. They must be fully informed of all the costs associated with programs. A mechanism should be made available with which troops and veterans can compare these various qualitative and quantitative measures side-by-side with other programs to make a fully informed decision on where to direct their hard-earned benefits. For-profits granting degrees should be subject to the same standards as established for Title IV schools. Finally, the target should be removed from service members and veterans backs by immediately changing the so-called ‘90/10’ rule. This ridiculous rule should be altered to include VA education and DOD benefits alongside DoE benefits in the cap on for-profit colleges receiving federal funds.

For-profits are taking advantage of our service members and veterans by misleading them, providing them an inferior product, lining their own pockets with taxpayer dollars, subverting the goal of the GI Bill and military Tuition Assistance for veterans and servicemembers, and depriving American society as a whole of the follow-on benefits of furthering the education of those who served. Congress must take action to ensure our veterans, in uniform and out, are not being taken advantage up for the sake of profit. This exploitation hurts our veterans and our society and must be stopped now.