America made a commitment to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: In return for their service, the country would help pay for their college education when they came home.
Since the Post-9/11 GI Bill went into effect in August 2009, the federal government has paid more than $30 billion in tuition and benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs said Friday. The VA said this money has now helped 1 million vets, servicemembers and their families get college degrees or technical training.
Most of this money goes to for-profit colleges and universities. In fact, eight of the 10 schools receiving the most GI Bill dollars are for-profits, according to a 2012 report from the Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP).
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The committee's chairman, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, accuses some for-profits of using "predatory and deceptive tactics to target servicemembers and veterans for enrollment" in order to tap their federal educational benefits.
Last week, Harkin and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced the Protecting Our Students and Taxpayers Act (POST), which would reduce the percentage of revenue for-profit schools can earn from federal financial aid to 85 percent, down from the current 90 percent.
Durbin believes too much federal money is going to an industry that "often provides a greater return on taxpayer investment to its administrators and investors than it does to its students."
The for-profit educational industry calls the POST Act unnecessary and warns that it would harm all students looking to get a postsecondary education.
"The industry is not ripping off military students. We have many schools that are supporting military members to get a quality education," said Michael Dakduk, vice president of military and veterans affairs at the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities. "There are good and bad actors throughout the entire spectrum of higher education. We want to make sure that veterans, servicemembers and their families have the best education and resources to choose an educational institution. And we're going to continue to work on that to develop best programs and services."
Profit is not a dirty word
There's nothing wrong with an educational institution making money, but there is a growing sense among government regulators that some of these schools take federal money and don't deliver on their promise of providing degrees that lead to good jobs.
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"We are very concerned about false claims about graduation rates, placement rates and possible earnings after graduation," said the Federal Trade Commission's Lois Greisman. "Not only are false claims unacceptable, they're illegal. We're looking into this. It's a top priority for the agency, and if we find schools that are violating the law, we plan to take appropriate action."
Holly Petraeus, who helps run the Office of Servicemember Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said some for-profit schools serve military students well and give them a good education that can lead to civilian employment.
"But there have definitely been some that see it more as a profit-making exercise," Petraeus said. "They spend a lot more money on recruiting than actual counseling or concern about graduation rates and gainful employment."