Colleges That Recruit Veterans Garner Profits and Scrutiny
Useful Degree or Deceit?
A spokesman for the university said it considered this comparison unfair, because many of the military students come with prior credits, meaning they are not counted as first-time students. Regardless, Mr. McCullough said the company had recently reinforced its rules about ethical conduct with its admissions staff.
“We did go back and reiterate the right and wrongs and dos and don’t in our admissions organizations,” Mr. McCullough said last month in a presentation on the company earnings. “We take some of those issues very, very seriously.”
Two recruiters at other for-profit institutions that sought out veterans and active-duty military personnel — Ashford University and Westwood College — described similar aggressive recruitment tactics in recent years.
“We know they are going to pay, that they had a guaranteed way to get money,” said Brent Park, a former Ashford University recruitment adviser, who worked there until 2008, when the university had already started to see a surge in veterans enrolling under the previous G.I. Bill.
Ashford offers a variety of incentives for veterans to enroll, including admission fee waivers and tuition discounts.
Bridgepoint, the company that owns Ashford, last year spent more on marketing and promotion than on education for its 53,700 students, 99 percent of whom took classes online. A spokeswoman for Bridgepoint did not respond to a request for comment.
Brian Hawthorne, 25, a staff sergeant in the Army Reserves, used his benefits to get a two-year, online degree from the for-profit American Military University and was able to transfer the credits to George Washington University, where he recently received a bachelor’s degree.
Sergeant Hawthorne said online education was his only option for his associate’s degree, as his Army Reserve unit was called up while he was taking classes. He continued to study as he moved to four states and then to Iraq. Many for-profit online colleges offer accelerated schedules, meaning it is possible to get an undergraduate bachelors degree in less than three years.
“Vets are really not at college to get the traditional undergraduate experience,” he said. “We are already professionals. College is a box checker, meaning we need a college degree to go into whatever we want to go into.”
For these reasons, Sergeant Hawthorne, a board member of a group called Student Veterans of America, cautioned against condemning the whole industry. “I did not feel taken advantage of,” he said. “If there are those who feel that way, let’s investigate it as individual cases and not as an industry exploiting veterans.”
Representative Walter B. Jones, Republican of North Carolina and a member of the Armed Services Committee, said employers had told him they do not value degrees from these online, for-profit colleges as they do from traditional universities.
“Here we are telling these young men and women they can get a higher education, and they get cheated,” Mr. Jones said. “I think it is a sin.”
Harris Miller, president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, pointed out that the two-year graduation rate at for-profit colleges was better than for the nation’s community colleges, and he said industry studies showed that job placement rates for graduates of these institutions were high.
“We are proud that our institutions provide purposeful, military-friendly education to active-duty and veteran students,” Mr. Miller said, in a statement his organization issued last month, on Veterans Day.