Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Is Our Higher Education System Failing Our Veterans?

By Emily SilfkinPublished January 1, 2017

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For-profit colleges have become increasingly popular in the United States for people who cannot pursue a traditional degree. However, the benefits of these institutions are not always what the advertisements claim. The debt accumulated at for-profit schools and the lack of opportunities with a degree hurt a very important group of students, our nation's veterans.
Abstract: For-profit colleges have become increasingly popular in the United States for people who cannot pursue a traditional degree. However, the benefits of these institutions are not always what the advertisements claim. The debt accumulated at for-profit schools and the lack of opportunities with a degree hurt a very important group of students, our nation's veterans.

Many for-profit institutions deceptively advertise their job placement numbers, preying on low-income students who are looking for genuine opportunities to better their lives. They are expensive, often much more costly than two-year public colleges and even four-year colleges for in-state students. With this higher price, more students borrow to go to for-profit colleges, and therefore accumulate significant debt. Additionally, even with the higher price tag, students who attend for-profit colleges do not acquire lucrative employment after graduation as easily as graduates  from other universities, making the debt that students accumulate difficult to pay back. Lastly, students attending for-profit colleges default on their loans at a higher rate.

All of these problems are exacerbated for veterans, who often use their GI Bill money to attend for-profit schools, but receive low returns on their investment. About 40% of GI Bill spending on tuition and fees goes towards for-profit colleges. This group of students should be the last people who must suffer from the predatory practices of for-profit colleges, yet government money is still flowing to these institutions at the expense of servicemen and women. Despite the fact that the Obama administration has been cracking down on for-profit colleges, the Veterans Affairs Department has taken little action when predatory for-profit colleges are punished by regulators for poor practices. Even after President Obama announced the "Principles of Excellence" program in 2012 to shame predatory colleges, the VA has never revoked the credibility of an institution, even from institutions that have already settled claims of misdoings for upwards of $1 million.

One problem with the VA and its oversight of GI Bill money is that it claims it is not to be an investigative agency and therefore cannot make claims of a college's competency. When the VA does suspend a college from receiving GI money, it does not communicate this change to veterans who are are current students and who continue to sink their money into a college that will not help them in the long run. Veterans deserve more guidance from the government on how and where to spend their limited GI money.

The steps that the government has taken so far are not enough to help a population that has dutifully served their country. Predatory schools falsely advertise to veterans by looking like they are related to the military or the VA. Veterans Affairs should give GI Bill recipients a guide to choosing a school or counseling in order to better communicate to veterans where there money is going, rather than letting these students go in blindly on a bad investment. Another solution to mitigate predatory advertising is to limit how much of a school can spend its tuition revenue, or at least GI Bill revenue, on advertising. However, some opponents of this may believe that limiting an institution's right to advertise is a violation of the free market.