Throughout my military career, I was taught how to fight enemies of all kinds. From combating conventional warriors to insurgents, the skills and education one receives in the service are what makes us the most effective and professional military in the world. Unfortunately, the enemy we don't learn to fight is the one that lurks at the door when we come home. Many veterans return stateside to find that the civilian workforce doesn't understand their military experience. Couple that translation barrier with unacceptable wait times for VA benefits like mental health care, and you might find yourself fighting the most insidious enemy of all: poverty.
With the passage of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill in 2008, Congress granted veterans the opportunity to attend college without worrying about how they might finance it. The bill is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet to combat all the symptoms of poverty: unemployment, homelessness, alcoholism and drug abuse. It set out to establish a New Greatest Generation of returning combat veterans, and it's succeeded with nearly one million veterans choosing to use the benefit after leaving the armed services. But as Congress turns to focus on the deficit, programs we depend upon, such as the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, will land on the chopping block if they can't show a solid return on investment.
When the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill passed, for-profit schools, aka educational institutions such as ITT Tech and University of Phoenix, began aggressively and deceptively targeting military veterans. Now eight of the top ten New G.I. Bill recipients are for-profit schools. Why? Due to a loophole in the law that classifies veterans' benefits as private funds (instead of the public tax dollars they really are), each New G.I. Bill veteran enrolled means more money for a for-profit school. Congress enacted this rule, commonly known as 90-10, to ensure that the free market retained some control over the industry (it mandates that 10 percent of for-profit college revenue come from private funding), but some for-profit schools exploit it at the expense of veterans.
The 90-10 rule wouldn't be a huge problem if the money was going toward quality student education, but it's not. A recent report from the Senate HELP Committee shows that a whopping 20-40 percent of this funding goes toward marketing and recruiting, while much of the rest goes toward lobbying, campaign donations and profit. Compare this breakdown to state school systems such as the University of North Carolina, which spends just 1.3 percent across 17 campuses. Even when The Association of Private Sector Colleges tried to diminish these damning report results, there were some numbers they just couldn't rebuke. For example, the number of recruiters hired by the for-profit industry in 2010 eclipsed the number of career services staff employed during that same year by 1,000 percent. No, that's not a typo: the for-profit industry employed one thousand percent more recruiters than career services staff in 2010.
This isn't just an issue of wasted tax dollars. For-profit schools tout their model as better for working veterans, claiming that they provide access to higher education for the poor and underserved. The evidence points to the contrary. These schools simply aren't doing for veterans what the New G.I. Bill was designed to do, which is to help them establish careers. For-profits average a 50-67 percent dropout rate, and for institutions that cost two to four times more than public universities and community colleges, the quality of education simply doesn't match the price. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) Member Veterans tell us over and over that their for-profit experience didn't provide them with useful degrees, job training, or transferrable credits. Instead of providing a quality technical education, they've become a black hole of time, energy and money.
IAVA is calling on Congress to protect career-ready education programs for veterans, which means defending the New G.I. Bill from predatory for-profits. North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan recently introduced The Protecting Financial Aid for Students and Taxpayers Act of 2012 (S. 2296) that prohibits schools from using government funds for marketing and recruiting, while Delaware Senator Tom Carper introduced the Military and Veterans Education Protection Act (S. 2116), which reclassifies all veteran and military benefits as government funds. If passed, these bills will remove the industry's incentive to aggressively and deceptively target veterans and allow the free-market to weed out the bad actors. If passed, student vets would be one step closer to the career-ready education they deserve.
The budget battle is going to be ugly and divisive. The New GI Bill should be something all Americans and all politicians get behind. Let's protect returning vets and save tax revenue for programs that deliver a good return on investment.
• To learn more about the effect for-profit schools are having on the GI Bill go to www.defendthenewgibill.org.
• To learn more about IAVA's concrete recommendations to protect career-ready education and combat unemployment, read IAVA's 2012 Policy Agenda at www.iava.org/policyagenda2012.
IAVA is on the ground at both the RNC and the DNC highlighting the top five things veterans expect to see from all every single candidate in America. To learn more, click here.
This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.
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