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One Tuesday evening I happened to watch the PBS program Frontline. One of the issues covered was a story about the proliferating for-profit, online colleges and universities and their relationship to our returning veterans. It was a very disturbing piece, so troubling that I felt the need to address the issue here in this venue.
This is a cautionary tale, one that needs to be known and thought about seriously by our returning veterans who want to go back to school, to earn degrees that would make them more employable in the working environment of our time.
The concern is that these for-profit and online colleges and universities might be more interested in getting a share of the generous GI Bill funds than for the educational and professional success of our veterans. There are billions of dollars available with the GI Bill, and for-profit, online colleges represent a $6 billion industry. The evidence indicates that they are getting a good chunk of that GI Bill money.
According to Frontline, 1/3 of the GI Bill funding for education goes to these schools, which have grown by 600% in the most recent years. These for-profit colleges and universities advertise and recruit veterans very aggressively. Again, according to Frontline, there is a site called "GIbill.com" that very pointedly directs veterans to for-profit universities. One of these for-profits, Ashland, has enrolled over 9,000 recent veterans. Another, The Art Institutes, has enrolled over 5,000.
The most disturbing part of the story to me was represented by a Sgt. Pantzke, who had suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq and who was also diagnosed with PTSD. He was admitted to The Art Institutes program to get a degree in Computer Animation. The Art Institutes, according to the Frontline documentary, implied that they would take care of him and all of his needs along the way. After collecting $70,000 in tuition money from him that came from both the GI Bill and several loans that Sgt. Pantzke took out to help pay the tuition, they flunked him out – never providing the services that a traditional state or private college or university would offer to a veteran with such injuries and the difficulties they might present in the course of his studies.
According to Frontline as well, the graduation rates for veterans at these online, for-profit colleges are 28%, a very low level. In fact, it is about half the graduation rates at the traditional colleges and universities. The documentary also states that, on average, the graduates from these online schools earn 12-15% less than those who graduate from state schools. Human Resource officers around the country have indicated that the degrees from the for-profit, online schools are not respected as much as those from traditional schools.
As one who benefited from the GI Bill, I am disturbed by these reports. This benefit comes to us only once and is absolutely critical for giving us the ability to get on a par with our peers in the work world. I have no personal comments about these schools. I offer this information believing that knowledge makes us more capable decision makers. Attendance at a for-profit, online school might work for some veterans, but it is also something to think about and research closely before enrolling.
We are ultimately the responsible party in the decisions we make. Knowledge is key. Study the benefits, the goods, the bads, and the uglies before you make a decision as important as this one. The GI Bill is a great benefit. It should not be wasted.