More GI Bill Training Options, More Concerns

Susan Hall
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When I did a Google search for "GI benefits" just now, an ad for the University of Phoenix came up with the results - and that should tell you something.


Starting this month, the GI Bill, which traditionally paid for study at colleges or universities, can be used for non-college degree programs, on-the-job apprenticeship training, flight programs and correspondence training. It even proves a housing allowance for students enrolled in distance learning, reports dcmilitary.com. And according to this post at GIBill.com, vets can combine benefits of the Post 9/11 GI Bill and the previous version, the Montgomery GI Bill, for an extra year of schooling.


With the unemployment rate for veterans age 20 to 24 estimated to be as high as 27 percent, obviously these folks need all the help they can get. But a New York Times editorial wisely raises concern about for-profit schools that target veterans with aggressive and deceptive recruiting.


According to figures released Thursday by Senate Democrats, the Post 9/11 GI Bill has been a boon for private, for-profit institutions, the Associated Press reports in The Washington Post. Of the $4.4 billion the VA doled out for the 2010-2011 academic year, $1 billion went to eight for-profit schools. The University of Phoenix received the largest chunk - $210 million through the program, up from $77 million a year ago. At the same time, those eight schools had 409,437 students who withdrew from degree programs within a year of enrolling.


For-profit schools have been the target of much scrutiny, with claims that they leave students overwhelmed in debt and in entry-level jobs where they earn too little to pay it off. (Students typically take out private loans to cover what government aid doesn't.) The U.S. Department of Education earlier this year tightened its rules on student aid. But a loophole in federal law makes veterans especially attractive students for for-profit schools. The so-called "90-10 rule" requires schools to get at least 10 percent of their revenue from non-government sources - and for some inexplicable reason, money from the GI Bill isn't counted as government aid, so these schools could have all their students on government programs.


The schools say they're working to improve student success rates. The AP reports the University of Phoenix, for instance, requires some students to pass a free, three-week orientation program.


Earlier this year, I quoted a must-read InfoWorld article on for-profit tech programs. It concluded that students could get a good education in them, but at a much higher cost than at state universities:

According to the College Board figures for the 2010-2011 school year, tuition and fees averaged $13,935 at for-profit schools, $2,713 at public two-year schools, and $7,605 for in-state students at public four-year schools.

The Times put it this way:

The VA says it will review all for-profit schools in the 2012 fiscal year to make sure they comply with accrediting standards, and conduct annual reviews of all institutions that have more than 300 GI Bill students. That will make a difference only if bad schools actually end up being kicked out of the program. So far, that has seldom happened. Congress could also help by closing the 90/10 loophole that makes veterans targets for aggressive and deceptive recruiting.
Buyers, as always, need to beware. Many for-profit schools and Web sites that plug their programs are spending far more effort marketing themselves to veterans than actually educating them.

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