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February 28, 2013 1:21 PM For-profit Colleges Announce New Plan to Cease Screwing Veterans

By Daniel Luzer

MilMoney

America’s for-profit colleges have long been accused of exploiting veterans and troops by enthusiastically enrolling them in low-quality programs to take advantage of the education and training money they have to spend.

Some 40 percent of the federal tuition money for active-duty military personnel pays for for-profit online colleges. And about 600,000 veterans spent around $9 billion in federal money last year for education, though no one knows their completion rate.

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin is a major critic of how proprietary colleges do business with the military, characterizing the situation as one in which “for-profit schools see our active-duty military and veterans as a cash cow. It is both a rip off of the taxpayer and a slap in the face to the people who have risked their lives for our country.” He has introduced several bills aimed to protect servicemembers from for-profit colleges.

Well for-profit colleges say they are going to do something about this; they’ve created a commission to investigate. The commission has issued its report. According to a piece about the commission at Republic Report:

The for-profit colleges lobbying group, APSCU, has responded by assembling a “Blue Ribbon Taskforce for Military and Veteran Education.”
The task force mostly consisted of executives at various for-profit colleges, plus, as “special advisers,” officials from the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Student Veterans of America (SVA). SVA has sometimes been critical of misconduct by APSCU members.

Here’s the report.

The recommendations are nice enough, saying that for-profit colleges “should … provide accurate and complete information to prospective students,” but the report appears to exist on another planet, since it fails to acknowledge the widespread abuses by the sector that have been documented by Senator Harkin, the news media, and many others.

The report seems particularly to concentrate on providing service members with more information and “student services” and also conducting “institutional research” about best practices.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Blue ribbon commissions are a common way to deal with scandals and they can often work to both diffuse tensions and spur on real reforms. But it’s language like this that might lead critics to suspect that real change is not coming soon:

Prospective military and veteran students should receive appropriate, relevant information in order to make a sound, informed decision about their postsecondary education. Information should be provided in clear and understandable language. Prospective students looking to utilize their U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) or U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) education benefits should not be the subject of aggressive or misleading recruiting practices. Institutions should follow all federal and state laws and regulations to ensure that the recruitment of military and veteran students is appropriate.

Yes, best practices do mean following laws, don’t they?

The reason for-profits exploit veterans and troops is because they can. It’s a structural problem. The money provided by the federal government to service members allows proprietary colleges to skirt regulations that limit the amount of money they can derive from the federal government. Furthermore, they’re not sanctioned for doing a poor job educating troops and getting them through their programs.

There’s no reason the whole thing should operate any differently without policy changes; it’s practically designed for this sort of abuse. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer