White House Announces More Help for Veteran Students, Including New Comparison Tool

Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on December 4, 2015 at 3:08 pm
White House Announces More Help for Veteran Students, Including New Comparison Tool

The GI Bill enables veterans to attend college once they complete their service duty. But, that same aid makes them a prime target for unscrupulous colleges and vocational schools who aggressively market to them. Even without aggressive marketing, choosing a school to attend can be time-consuming and overwhelming, particularly for veterans. And that doesn’t even address the cost of earning a four-year degree, which can easily be more than $50,000 for an in-state school.

In an attempt to tackle some of these unique challenges, the White House announced a series of initiatives this past Veteran’s day to improve the college outcomes among vets.

In-state tuition rates for veterans

In a three-prong announcement, the White House said all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico will offer recently transitioned veterans and their dependents in-state tuition rates at all public colleges and universities, regardless of how long they have resided in the state.  The change in tuition rates is a win-win for states and college students, as states will be able to retain new veterans as residents and veterans will be relieved of some of the financial constraints associated with paying for college.

Government to clamp down more on aggressive marketers

The government also announced an expanded relationship with federal agencies to strengthen enforcement and oversight for schools that engage in deceptive or misleading advertising, sales or enrollment practices geared toward veterans. Toward this end, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Federal Trade Commission will be teaming up to increase protections for veterans, a measure welcomed by veteran student groups.

Though the government has already clamped down on aggressive marketing practices, veterans remain an attractive target because of the GI Bill, which gives them up to 36 months of education benefits. When the GI bill was first passed in 1944, many schools popped up seemingly overnight and created programs purely to target veterans. Often, veterans were lured into attending these schools, just to come out of these sometimes expensive programs with worthless certificates.

In spite of increased oversight today, the same argument can be made about certain for-profit, public and vocational school programs. This is one reason why Will Hubbard, Vice President of Government Affairs at Student Veterans of America, wants the reinstatement and enforcement of the 85:15 student ratio rule of the GI Bill. This rule states that no more than 85% of the students enrolled in a program can be using veterans’ funding.

“If private citizen students are willing to use their own money on a program, then there must be some value,” says Hubbard. “There needs to be more enforcement” of that rule, he says. What’s more, the disproportionate use of federal funding, in general, by for-profit schools extends beyond veterans’ funds for education.

College comparison tool gets an overhaul

In addition to making it easier to pay for college and protect veterans from aggressive marketing, the White House announced a revamped college comparison tool that will help veterans identify which school to attend. The tool, for the first time, provides veteran-specific outcome measures on graduation and retention rates and more caution flags to help veterans make an informed decision on the school they attend.

“It now includes the schools that are on probation,” says Hubbard, pointing to the University of Phoenix, which was put on probation by the Department of Defense in October, citing the school’s so-called improper use of official military seals and trademarks, going onto military bases without giving proper notice and ongoing investigations by the California Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission.

“It’s not a pronouncement of guilt. The tool simply makes students aware of active issues worth keeping in mind.” Hubbard says Student Veterans of America worked with the Veterans Affairs Department to upgrade the comparison tool and that the increased red flags are driven, in part, by past school closings that caught students, faculty and parents off guard, like the bankruptcy of Corinthian Colleges.

That school had been under investigations and under the Department of Education’s heightened cash monitoring. Yet, had that information been made available to veterans in a single place, they may have chosen a different school. “The tool highlights quite a bit of information that makes it possible for students to understand what they are getting into,” says Hubbard. “It helps them cut out the marketing step.”

White House calls for swift passage of the Career-Ready Student Veterans Act of 2015

On Veteran’s Day, the White House took the opportunity to call on Congress to act by swiftly passing the Career-Ready Student Veterans Act of 2015 that would protect veterans from paying for worthless degrees. The act would toughen requirements for schools receiving funds through the GI Bill, making sure the programs prepare veterans for employment as well as meet specific criteria for accreditation, certification or licensure in law, teaching, nursing, psychology, criminal justice and programs that require such.

The act is designed to reduce the number of veterans who come out of college with degrees that don’t prepare them for the working world. This is a problem that also extends beyond veteran students to all kinds of students and employers. In fact, the consulting firm McKinsey & Company found in a recent survey that 40 percent of employers say they can’t fill entry level positions because students lack the proper skills.

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo is a freelance journalist hailing out of Long Island, New York. She has also written for Bankrate.com, Glassdoor.com, SigFig.com, FoxBusiness.com, Business Insider, Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal.

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