Vets choose for-profits over public options

Thirty-one percent of military veterans enrolled in for-profit colleges in 2012, up from 23 percent three years earlier. Only 50 percent chose public colleges, down from 62 percent.

For-profit colleges use aggressive marketing to lure vets — and their generous GI Bill funding — complains Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin a new report. For-profit colleges received $1.7 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits during the 2012-13 academic year.

At the for-profit colleges receiving the most benefits, up to 66 percent of students left without earning a certificate or degree, according to the report. In addition, 39 to 57 percent of the vocational programs “offered by four of the companies receiving the most Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits would fail to meet the proposed gainful employment rule, suggesting that the students who attend these institutions do not earn enough to pay back the debt they take

Veterans choose for-profit institutions “because they offer the right mix of study programs, customer service, and locations and times that meet their needs better than do public college,” writes Daniel L. Bennett, an assistant economics professor at Patrick Henry College and a Center for College Affordability and Productivity research fellow.

Harkin also suggests it costs taxpayers nearly twice as much to send a veteran to a for-profit college ($7,972) than to a public one ($3,914). But these figures are highly misleading. They only account for GI tuition payments, ignoring significant taxpayer subsidies and tax exemption. A 2011 AIR report estimated the annual taxpayer cost per full-time equivalent (FTE) student at unselective public colleges to be nearly $8,000, while for-profit students actually provided taxpayers with an average net gain of nearly $800.

Many vets are looking for job training. For-profit colleges’ two-year programs have much higher completion rates than community college programs, writes Matt Reed, the Community College Dean. Career colleges focus on job training with no electives and minimal delays for remediation. That could be one reason why low-cost community colleges are having trouble competing with high-cost for-profit colleges.

A new bill — soon to be a law — will let veterans pay in-state tuition at any state college or university.

Half of vets complete a degree or certificate

Half of veterans who used the GI Bill completed a vocational credential or college degree from 2002 through 2013, according to research released by the Student Veterans of America. About one in three of the veterans earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The veterans’ 51.7 percent completion rate is close to the six-year graduation rate for younger, non-veterans, 56.1 percent. However, the rates aren’t directly comparable since the veterans’ survey included vocational certificates and job training and gave vets 10 years to reach completion.”

Still, “researchers say veterans appear to be doing better than other so-called non-traditional students — those who delay attending college, enroll part-time or have children, factors common with many current veterans,” reports USA Today. Completion rates are much lower for older students.

“Looking at the obstacles and the issues that student vets have to deal with. … I think we’re doing quite well,” says D. Wayne Robinson, a former Army command sergeant major and now president and CEO of Student Veterans of America.

. . . Studies have shown that about half of those veterans eligible for the GI Bill after World War II obtained a training certificate or college education, as did about two-thirds of Vietnam veterans, according to a 1976 VA study.

Veterans often pursue degrees in business, social sciences, homeland security, law enforcement and firefighting, and computer and information services, the survey found.

Seventy-nine percent of veterans start at a public college or university, notes Ed Central. Most choose a community college. The completion rate was 50.8 percent for enrollees in public schools, 63.8 percent for private nonprofits and 44.9 percent for for-profit colleges.

The National Student Clearinghouse analyzed nearly 800,000 college records.

Student veterans fight for in-state tuition

Veterans are having trouble using the GI Bill at state schools, if they’ve moved frequently, reports AP.  New rules that took effect in August say vets can collect up to $17,500 a year at private colleges but only the cost of in-state tuition at public institutions. That makes state residency an issue.

A Missouri native, Justin Curley was a medic in the Air Force. He left the service in 2009, settled in New Orleans and applied to the nursing program at Delgado Community College. Denied in-state status, he borrowed $3,000 a year to pay out-of-state tuition. But a friend persuaded him to protest.

“Essentially, because I constantly moved with the Air Force, the Louisiana Community and Technical College System is taking away the veterans benefits I rightfully earned in favor of unwritten policies that are left up to the discretion and judgment of the board and chancellor,” he wrote. “To me, that says I’m a resident of nowhere. All because of my service.”

In October, Curley met with newly installed Chancellor Monty Sullivan. Not only did Sullivan grant Curley the in-state rate, he refunded his money back to fall 2011.

The graduation rates of veterans using the GI Bill will be reported publicly, announced Eric Shinseki, secretary of Veterans Affairs.

“The best measurements of success are completion rates,” Mr. Shinseki told a crowd of several hundred student veterans. “Degrees, certificates of completion, certifications, licensing—that to me is how you measure. Not who goes in the front door, but who completes the program.”

In the fall-2012 semester, 480,000 students were enrolled under the GI Bill, Shinseki said. The department will work with the National Student Clearinghouse to track graduation rates, reports the Chronicle of Higher EducationStudent Veterans of America, which has 700 campus chapters around the country, brokered the agreement.

Vets sign up for college, but how many graduate?

In three years, the Post-9/11 GI Bill has helped 860,000 vets go to school. But little is known about how veterans’ graduation or employment rates, reports NPR.

Most student veterans choose community colleges or for-profit colleges. At Cayuga Community College, a small school in rural, upstate New York, the number of vets went up by 400 percent after the new bill went into effect in 2009, says Sarah Yaw.

Many were the first in their families to go to college. She formed a consortium with other educators in the upstate area to provide special counseling for the new students.

There are no national statistics on veterans’ graduation rates, and that lack of data recently led to a slight panic among supporters.

Some press accounts cited information that said only 3 percent of vets were getting degrees. Veterans’ advocates quickly debunked that number, but it just pointed to a need for data.

Michael Dakduk, executive director of Student Veterans of America, is working on a database to track nearly 1 million new student veterans, who’ve received $24 billion and counting in aid. The Department of Veterans Affairs also plans to track success rates.

However, education statistics that track “first-time, full-time students” leave out many veterans and other nontraditional students.

CCs cut veterans’ programs

As more military veterans arrive on campus, cash-strapped community colleges have cut programs for veterans, according to an ACE survey, From Soldier to Student II: Assessing Campus Programs for Veterans and Service Members.

Of 690 colleges and universities surveyed by ACE, 62 percent offer programs and services for veterans, up from 57 percent in 2009.  Fifty-seven percent of community colleges offered programs, down from 67 percent in 2009. Community college is the most popular choice for GI Bill users, though more are enrolling in for-profit colleges.

Student veterans who receive support services are retained and graduate at rates higher than classmates, notes Inside Higher Ed.

The average number of active-duty students and veterans at the responding institutions has more than doubled since 2009, the survey shows. On average, each institution enrolls about 453 active-duty military students and 370 veteran students today, compared to 201 and 156, respectively, three years ago.

Far more institutions this time around reported that they’re considering “veteran-friendly changes” as part of their long-term strategic plans: 71 percent said so in 2012, 28 percent more than in 2009. And 64 percent said they are “engaging in recruiting efforts” specifically to attract military service members and veterans.

Colleges are shifting focus from offering help with VA benefits and enrollment to creating student centers where veterans can meet, socialize and study.

Colleges with veterans’ services are much more likely to offer counseling for vets with post-traumatic stress disorder, physical disabilities and brain injuries.

Colleges compete for vets — and benefits

Uncle Sam wants veterans to sign up for college! And colleges and universities are vying to create “veteran friendly” programs, classes, and centers to attract the ex-G.I.’s—and the billions of U.S. dollars provided by the post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

Onondaga Community College, in Syracuse, N.Y., uses veterans to help new G.I. Bill enrollees. “I’ve seen almost instant rapport between a work-study vet who may have already been in school a semester or two as (s)he meets with a vet applying to school, giving the new student the benefit of their experience and continuing the habit of ‘watching your buddy’s back’ that most have developed in the service,” Keith Stevenson, a college staffer and Coast Guard veteran, told the ACE.

Some colleges have created special courses to help veterans transition back into civilian life.

Sierra College, in Rocklin, Calif., offers Boots to Books, which combines a remedial English class designed for veterans with a course on study skills.

However, some colleges have dropped special classes for veterans, preferring to focus on integrating them fully into the college community.

Most veterans enroll in community colleges or for-profit colleges.

From combat to college

To protect veterans and service members from aggressive, dishonest college recruiters, President Obama signed an executive order last week requiring a “know before you owe” fact sheet, counseling on how to complete a degree and stronger oversight of improper recruitment practices.

Recently Student Veterans of America revoked charters for campus groups at 26 for-profit colleges, charging the groups were not started by student veterans and don’t provide “a community of individuals that share similar experiences.” Schools may be using fake SVA chapters to advertise themselves as “veteran friendly,” the group charges.

The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill provided more than $7.7 billion for 555,000 veterans and dependents to attend college last year. Most choose community colleges or for-profit colleges.

However, most will not complete a degree, warns the Center for American Progress. Easing the Transition from Combat to Classroom suggests ways for colleges to help vets succeed.

Returning veterans often face myriad challenges when it comes to higher education, including reacquainting themselves with academic work, navigating complicated campus administrative systems, finding support services to meet their needs, encountering negative reactions from the campus community based on their participation in military conflicts, and having difficulty connecting with classmates and faculty.

The report helps colleges analyze whether they have the right veteran-support structures in place. It’s designed to work with the American Council on Education’s “Veteran Friendly Toolkit.”


Veterans go to college

Most military veterans use the GI Bill to enroll at community colleges, but for-profit colleges are an increasingly popular choice.

Veterans-only classes close, but others open

Veterans-only classes have been dropped at some of the universities that first developed the model, reports Inside Higher Ed. But some colleges and universities are adding veterans’ classes.

At Valencia College in Orlando, John H. Creighton, a veteran himself, started a special speech class this fall.

In the 11-person class of veterans, the students can speak freely, and while they generally don’t go into great detail about their experiences in the field, they know that everybody’s on the same page. “In this class, because they are bonded by their camaraderie of being a veteran, they look at things differently,” Creighton said. “College was new to a lot of them, and this gave them a place where they could feel comfortable in a new environment and network.”

It can be difficult to find enough vets who want to take the same class at the same time. At Collin College, in Texas, Meredith Martin couldn’t recruit enough veterans for her history class, so she opened the class to others. That’s helped veterans integrate into the college community and helped their classmates as well.

“For 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds … in this mochachino, fast-paced, iPhone, instant information kind of world, it’s good for them to stop and realize that we have individuals who served, and that we’re still at war,” Martin said. “It gives a very different global experience.”

Some believe separate classes delay veterans’ transition to civilian life and isolate them from other students.

Most veterans enroll at community colleges and for-profit colleges using their GI Bill benefits.

Veterans seek help navigating college

Military veterans are using an expanded GI Bill to seek college degrees, but college can be a “hostile environment,” says Roger Parker, a retired sergeant major who did three tours in Iraq, two in Afghanistan and one in Bosnia. Parker is studying health, fitness and nutrition at  Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. Like many other veterans on campus, he needs help figuring out his benefits.

Two years after a broadened G.I. Bill took effect for veterans who served on or after Sept. 11, 2001, growing numbers are claiming benefits worth up to the full cost of the highest in-state tuition at a public university, plus stipends for books and living expenses. There were nearly 800,000 G.I. Bill beneficiaries last year, up more than 40 percent from the year before. Schools recruit such students because the veterans bring with them $11 billion a year in federal aid.

But veterans and their advocates say colleges need to step up efforts to help students adjust to campus life.

Some colleges, like Anne Arundel, have set up resource centers to help veterans make the transition to campus. At others, students are asking for a coordinator to provide information on veterans’ benefits and other issues.

Veterans are more likely to enroll part time or transfer among schools and generally don’t feel supported or understood, according to a survey by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research. They’re twice as likely as other students to have disabilities and to spend more time working or raising families. Thirty-eight percent have trouble figuring out their benefits, according to a survey by the American Council on Education.

Veterans Affairs has cut processing time for GI Bill benefits and is testing a counseling program for student veterans at eight campuses.