Friday, April 27, 2012

Is Bridgepoint Education targeting veterans for easy money?

Profits and Scrutiny for Colleges Courting Veterans
The New York Times
December 8, 2010

When Congress moved in 2008 to sweeten tuition payments for veterans, it was celebrated as a way to ensure that military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan could go to college at no cost and to replicate the historic benefits society gained from the G.I. Bill after World War II.

Now, a year after payouts on the so-called Post-9/11 G.I. Bill started, the huge program has turned into a bonanza of another kind for the many commercial colleges in the United States that have seen their military revenues surge.

More than 36 percent of the tuition payments made in the first year of the program — a total of $640 million in tuition and fees — went to for-profit colleges, like the University of Phoenix, according to data compiled by the Department of Veterans Affairs, even though these colleges serve only about 9 percent of the overall population at higher education institutions nationwide.

As the money flows to the for-profit university industry, questions are being raised in Congress and elsewhere about their recruitment practices, and whether they really deliver on their education promises. Some members say they want to place tighter limits on how much these colleges can collect in military benefits, a move certain federal officials say they would welcome...

Amid this debate, the industry’s powerful lobbying forces are pushing for even more, including a change in the law that would allow veterans who sign up exclusively for online classes to also get government housing subsidies, even if they live at home, which would make online education even more attractive.

With their multimillion-dollar advertising and recruitment campaigns, these colleges have pitched themselves as a natural choice for veterans and active-duty personnel, given their extensive online class offerings, accelerated degree programs and campuses spread across the nation, including near many military bases.

...ECPI College of Technology, a Virginia institution with a major online program and campuses in three states that collected $16 million in G.I. Bill benefits in the first year.

Active-duty personnel are eligible for free tuition, which explains why the for-profit colleges have received about $200 million in Department of Defense tuition reimbursement benefits and fees in the last year, mostly for online classes, in addition to money collected from the G.I. Bill. But high dropout rates at some of these colleges, difficulty in transferring credits, higher tuition bills than at public colleges and skepticism from some employers about the value of the degrees are all creating unease among some in Congress.

“For-profit schools see our active-duty military and veterans as a cash cow..."

It is a concern echoed by eight current and former recruiters from some of the nation’s largest for-profit chains, who in interviews said the intense drive to enroll veterans had led them, at times, to sign up military personnel for classes when they were all but certain they would drop out or fail.

“There is such pressure to simply enroll more vets — we knew that most of them would drop out after the first session,” said Jason Deatherage, who worked as military admissions adviser at Colorado Technical University until this spring, when he was fired, he said, for not meeting his quota. “Instead of helping people, too often I felt like we were almost tricking them.”

...“I felt like I made a horrible, horrible decision,” said Jason Longmore, 31, a Navy veteran...forcing him to repeat classes elsewhere before he could transfer credits to a Colorado state university...some of the for-profit colleges hounded active-duty personnel there as they pursued “hot leads,” calling them repeatedly to get a piece of the military tuition grants.

Mr. Songer said that he was not opposed to the colleges, but that they often enrolled Marines in classes of limited educational value. In some cases, the colleges even take out high-interest-rate loans on behalf of the Marines to cover extra costs, he said.

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