For-Profit School Deceives Vets, VA Pulls GI Bill Funds

Last month, I wrote about ways to maximize your educations benefits after leaving the service. In the piece, I wrote about how it’s important to verify information furnished by schools that might be misleading—usually when it comes from certain schools that tend to overpromise the value and earning power of their degrees. Research and hard questions about a school’s operation can help minimize the predatory practices of some schools. Still, abuses happen. That’s why VA utilizes State Approving Agencies like the Texas Veterans Commission to ensure a school’s program of education is worthy of receiving GI Bill benefits. The Texas Veterans Commission recently disqualified one school from eligibility where such misuse took place. Therefore, VA cannot pay Veterans’ tuition and fees under the Post-9/11 GI Bill to this school until approval is restored.

Three separate campuses of Westwood College in Texas (Houston South, Dallas and Ft. Worth) were disqualified by VA under rules meant to protect students from schools that purposely deceive their students. For-profit, online schools serve a valuable role for some students and we certainly don’t want to see reductions in education options for any Veteran. But at the same time, VA has a responsibility to ensure benefits used by Vets help them reach their goals after serving. These crucial tuition payments, in turn, should not go to institutions that put profits ahead of quality education.

In situations like these, schools are given an opportunity to resolve their issues before drastic action is taken. When all other avenues are exhausted, the SAA and VA don’t hesitate to step in to protect Veterans and their family members. In December of last year, this is exactly what happened with Westwood College’s campuses in Texas.

So what happens next? Last fall was the last semester students were eligible to use VA benefits at those campuses. The Texas Veterans Commission will work with Westwood to resolve their outstanding issues. Only then can Westwood be recertified to accept VA tuition payments. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on any developments.

If you’re an affected student at one of these schools, there are options to continue using your education benefits elsewhere. For an official list of Texas schools, go here and click on Texas. You can also look at these unofficial lists of Texas colleges broken down by the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex and Houston. Just be sure whatever school interests you is approved for VA benefits.

It’s both unfortunate and shameful to see an institution of higher learning behave so inappropriately toward those who’ve served the country. Hopefully this conduct by Westwood College will be the last instance of a school engaging in similar deceptive tactics driven by profit motives. And if not, we’ll be keeping a watchful eye out for Veterans and their families.

4/12/2011 3:24PM EST: This post was revised to clarify the relationship between VA and state approving agencies.

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30 Comments to “For-Profit School Deceives Vets, VA Pulls GI Bill Funds”

  1. Loco Lupus says:

    Look into ITT Tech next I am sure something there is messed up too!

  2. tt says:

    There was an article in the Milwaukee papers on ITT tech. You really should look into them as well.

    • Delmas Behee says:

      I think all the legislation on the 911 gi bill is good, but I wish they would help us out that are having to rely on loans to suplement there tutition cost. Because they only spent one tour in Iraq and becacuse of this they don’t quallefy for the yellow ribbon program. This needs to be addressed.

      • ed says:

        The amount of time spent in iraq or afghanistan have no bearing on your benefit amount. Only your time on active duty after 9/11does

  3. Gannon Beck says:

    I hope I’m wrong about this, but I suspect that the improvement in GI Bill benefits will cause inflation in tuition. When I went to school back in the 90′s, I was amazed at how closely the tuition matched exactly what my GI Bill would pay out. I suspect schools look at GI Bill benefits as a cash cow and consciously look for ways to get the biggest piece of the pie as they can. An increase in benefits for veterans will likely mean increased tuition for all. Perhaps that’s what we’re seeing here.

    • Terry Willis says:

      The only inflation in tuition will be at state schools. Private schools will not have an inflation because of the cap set on those schools. State schools have no cap on them so they will be able to charge what ever they want. On top of that this “Improvement Act” is going to negatively affect thousands of veterans that are already enrolled into private institutions. They should fix this and fix it soon before these veterans will have to discontinue thier education, drastically change thier degree programs, or pay most of thier degree out of pocket just to finish what the VA had approved and contracted them to do.

  4. Dan S says:

    Student Veterans and “Big Business” Education

    Recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs decided to disqualify Westwood College’s Houston South, Dallas and Fort Worth campuses from receiving money associated with the G.I. Bill and federal tuition assistance. This action was a direct result from a G.I Bill 2.0 provision which allows the Secretary of the VA to deny a school participation in the G.I. Bill program. Further, Senator Durbin (D-IL) has recently requested a list of colleges and universities where the VA has suspended or withdrawn G.I. Bill and federal education benefits after discovering questionable recruiting practices used by these institutions. First, I would like to applaud Senator Durbin’s persistence and the VA’s action to ensure those military personnel, veterans, and their families will not be subject to such deceptive and misleading tactics all in an effort to garner federal funding. Several of these types of institutions (for-profits) are working towards increasing their ‘bottom-line’ and stock prices rather than focusing on the well-being of students and giving them a quality education. Everyone within the veterans’ community needs to understand this problem and be supportive of measures to stop these practices.

    As the economy has soured over the past few years, the influx of the ‘for-profit’ business model has increased dramatically. Several companies have made a concerted effort to buy up small and failing, rural community colleges, liberal art colleges, and vocational education centers all in an effort to bolster their educational enterprise with learning institutions that have received proper accreditation. Once they get a hold of these schools, they turn the institutions around with an influx of capital, aggressively market their product, and spend tons of money to recruit any and all types of students regardless if they are capable of completing higher education. Many of these institutions have turned into degree/certification factories and act as pay-day advance lenders while the education and training given is not worth the paper it is written on.

    To be sure, education is being sought after by many Americans since the economy has taken a dive—this is especially true for veterans who are returning from service. The ‘for-profit’ sector has stepped in to fill the void that community colleges and public and private universities can’t fill by offering flexibility for non-traditional students. While the merits of this sector are perceived as wholesome, it seems as though several are no longer looking to fill a void. Instead, they are trying to create more and more growth at the detriment of the students they work to recruit. This focus is also diluting the product and diminishing what it means to actually obtain an education. For example, many will offer veterans a Bachelor of Science degree which require less than two years of actual class work because these institutions allow them to transfer their military education and training as a majority of the credit requirements. Other ‘for-profits’ are setting up shop around military installations in an effort to lure GI’s and their families who have federal tuition assistance.
    Now some have criticized veterans’ organizations, like the SVA, IAVA, and many others, for protecting the industry or not outright condemning the entire industry—this is nonsense and can’t be further from the truth. Student Veterans of America has members all across the country; some attend these types of institutions and have even held student veteran events at their campuses. SVA supports all student veterans regardless of where they decide to pursue education—whether it is at a public, private, vocational, or distance educational institutions, it doesn’t matter. Am I supposed to demonize an entire industry that seems to be allowing many to obtain an educational goal while some are conducting immoral practices? All this does is detract from the real issue and does nothing to assist in solving it. Instead, the focus should be on how to ensure that a new and emerging market is safe for the consumer.

    So what can be done to ensure that military personnel, veterans, and their families are not spending their benefits on worthless education that could potentially levy them with unnecessary debt? Many have suggested gainful employment legislation. This legislation would ensure that students do not take on unsustainable debt, for which they are unable to repay, for degrees and certificates they cannot use. It also protects taxpayers from high loan default rates. I think this is a good step and should be done, but it doesn’t address the issue of federal tuition assistance or G.I. Bill use; it only looks at debt-to-income ratios and loan repayment rates. I think it should be extended to include the use of federal benefits as well. I would suggest that the 90/10 rule, which requires ‘for-profit’ colleges to receive 10 percent of their revenue from nonfederal sources, extends to the use of G.I. Bill and federal tuition assistance. Finally, I think it would be a good idea if the VA create some type of quality control measure to make certain that educational funds are used toward qualifying degrees and certifications.

    In the meantime, I encourage the Department of Defense to warn military members of these issues and potential pitfalls. I also encourage each military member, veteran, and family to do their research to see what exactly it takes to obtain a certain educational objective. Ask yourself if paying upwards to $500 per credit hour is worth the flexibility of taking a night or online class anytime of the year? Ask yourself if you can still get the same flexibility while going to a local community college or public university without risking your education? Ask yourself how long does it actually take to obtain a quality nursing, IT, or any other chosen degree?

    In closing, everyone needs to take it upon themselves to research and elevate this issue because education is too important to jeopardize (Comment on your suggestions below). Secondly, the entire ‘for-profit’ sector needs to work at cleaning up the mess some have created to ensure that students are not being taken advantage of. Finally, I would suggest that if someone is offering something to good to be true, it probably is. Obtaining an education is a long, drawn out, and sometimes painful process; however, it is this way because it ensures that a certain level of knowledge is being obtained and assures a certain type of thinking is created. Nothing worth having is supposed to come easy.

    • Brian says:

      While it is sad to see a few “for Profit” schools acting up and taking advantage of the system and giving those that don’t a black eye, I will remind you that there are those that don’t take advantage of the system, even under the old state tuition cap it would have cost more to go to the state university than it does for me to go to devry, both programs are accredited the same, and through the same boby. But here is the main diffrence from the state school to devry, the state school (ASU) is cutting their program back due to budget cuts while Dvery is expanding their program, (only other school that offers the degree program in the state is U of A, but that’s a 179mile one way trip as where Devry is 57 miles and ASU is 72 miles) While the time you spend @ school does help with the retention of knowledge, that is not the only factor, you also have to be dedicated to learn what is being taught. And because of the few bad apples and the federal Government playing shell games with funds (and not honnoring the origianl contract that they made with the veteran when they started to go to school (max amount fallowing the State tution Cap), the Veterans that attend these schools are placed in to a hard spot with the VA not determing the “year” weither the accidemic year or a calandar year, for many if the VA selects the accidemic year the new Cap of 17,500 a year They will not be effected, but on the other hand if they choose the calandar year then many will be effected and either have to use the yellow ribbon program or be forced to take a break in their schooling.

  5. Walter says:

    Maybe they should look into Grantham University… For not working with Vets on refunds for courses not taken for valid reasons ie Instructors not responding to issues before course and during first week. They just issue incomplete and you are out of pocket.

  6. Larry says:

    Go to a university or community college, and be certain you will get value.

    • Matt Payne says:

      Yes and I am sure you are aware most community colleges are cutting industrial tech programs and switching to med tech focus. This means that degrees like mine aren’t getting money. I was forced to go private to keep competitive in graphic design. If I would have stayed at my old school, I would not have such a fat portfolio filled with work that reflects real life design issues if I went to a community college or a state school. Rather, most state colleges prefer you write papers over design and hand in theoretical plans. At my school we operate our classes like modern design houses. We fire those that don’t do the work and reward those that do. Where as most state schools are doing away with degrees in typography, our school is going to be adding one soon. You see, the state schools are nice for educational endeavors. However, if your learning design, you need the small environment you get in a private design school. Also I am currently in line for a internship with better homes and gardens. This internship was only made available as part of a partnership with my design school.

    • Lynny Sumner says:

      Larry, not everyone can go to a “Brick and Mortar” university!

  7. gail p says:

    Carrington College charges 15k to become a CNA. This is a low paying job not worth the debt incured!

    • sue b says:

      Check out each state for CNA requirements–most states have classes at high schools for $300.00 or $400.00–Some agencies offer the course for free –There is NO reason why anyone should pay $15,000.00!!! You got taken

  8. Basil White says:

    VA and the IRS could combine data and rank-order the effect of each GI Bill institution on income. It’s a start.

    • Alex Horton says:

      Interesting idea Basil. I wonder if the Dept. of Education is doing something similar to determine their gainful employment rules. Perhaps they just stick to data mined from unemployment claims, who knows.

  9. WILL says:

    ECPI another overpriced school.

  10. Bob M says:

    I am employed by a for profit company “Brookline College” and am a veteran. I can tell you that there is a need for these schools but not everybody is ready for college and that there is no screening method to insure that a proper education is given. Veterans are often targets because of the G.I. Bill but so are other students who become the target, because of the federal monies they receive through student loans etc. I’m not necessarily for federal involvement but these schools should be held to some standards in education.

  11. Randy says:

    Just as I would think it is unfair to say “Big 12 school violates NCAA rules” or “Ivy League University professor admits to embezzling”, I think it is wrong to use the term “For Profit School”. Call out WESTWOOD in the headline, not just the body of the article.

    There are many veterans who CHOOSE for profit programs for various reasons, and the majority are very happy with pricing, programs, and outcomes. I think there should be an article next month Alex, that shows the other side of this – that is truly fair and balanced, and definitely newsworthy!

  12. Papa Tango Romeo says:

    One big problem with schools like Westwood college, most of the credits are not transferrable. Thus the students affected are absolutely fucked, and would have wasted time and benefits. Frankly, the school should be forced to return the money, and push for maximum transfer value, as well as other schools should accept maximum credits possible from such affected students…

  13. Timothy Fries says:

    Please look into ITT Tech. They are exactly like Westwood. They prey on military members just getting out, using a very aggressive car salesman type approach. I enrolled with them in August of last year and after a week of school I decided to dis-enroll because the quality of education was SEVERELY lacking. After going to the office to dis-enroll, the “salesman” tried to aggressively talk me out of it. First I was in a room with one person trying to talk me out of it, next she called in back up, then they eventually had four people in that little office room trying to convince me to stay, it was pathetic. I held my ground and got out of that scam of a school. The books and materials were not even close to on par. They talk low income families to use grants and take out high interest Sally Mae loans and claim that with this degree they will be able to support their families. These are people trying to better themselves from their families and ITT Tech preys on them, destroying any chance of success for these people. After these poor vets and low income families graduate, they will have a useless degree, hit or miss job placement and non-transferable credits (they are nationally accredited, not regionally). I saw their tactics with my own eyes and know that what they are doing is totally unethical. Please look into ITT Tech, they are just like the Westwood campus’ you described in the article.

  14. Joe Average says:

    The VA is playing the role of benevolent “big brother” to Vets. Please.
    Where was “big brother” helping these Vets who were victims of VA fiduciary fraud: http://www.newschannel5.com/story/14071970/va-hires-convicted-felon-to-manage-veterans-money

    Or this one where our own leaders know their is internal corruption hurting Vets but do nothing about it:
    http://www.vawatchdog.org/08/nf08/nfdec08/nf121008-2.htm

    I wished the VA would stop referring to itself as being “Pro Veteran” when its leaders are clearly not Pro-Veteran.

    Sec Shinseki and the current Administration have done more to financially repress Veterans than any other VASEC. Even tho Congress approved tens of billions MORE for the VA than the previous administration, the VA has made sure none of that “extra” found its way to deserving Veterans, not even a Cola for disabled Vets, 2 years in a row. Here is where the money went instead: Raises for government employees making over 150k per year.
    http://freemarketmojo.com/?p=14462

    In the past 2 years, it is way more difficult for Veterans to get benefits as the backlog has skyrocketed, all while Veterans were being promised a backlog reduction by its leaders.

  15. Starbuck says:

    Does anyone find it disturbing that University of Phoenix runs advertisements on AFN? If we’re serious about steering students away from these insitutions, we need to stop tacitly endorsing them.

    http://www.stripes.com/news/afn-ads-for-universities-seem-to-contradict-commercial-ban-1.77684

    • Alex Horton says:

      I think this is a perfect example of one hand not knowing what the other is doing. They’re still running on AFN, three years after that article ran? What’s more, a lot of these schools run classrooms on post. They’re snagging people before they even have a chance to explore their options.

  16. Laurel Maury says:

    Hi,

    You probably should be careful of certain not-for-profit schools as well. I taught adjunct at two non-profit colleges in New York, and it’s not a proud chapter of my life. At both, I was forced to pass students whose skills were so low, it was a crime. They’ll be going out into the world unable to write a grammatically correct sentence. I saw the same thing in my colleagues’ math classes–students going for a B.S. degree who’ll graduate without having really mastered algebra.

    And concerning money, one of these schools definitely didn’t have students’ financial best interests at heart. The student homepage was set up with a direct link to private lenders so that students could take out new loans as easily as making a purchase on Amazon, and almost none of this money went to the teachers. Students ended up paying a bit more than $2,000 for a three credit course with 25 other students–$50,000 per class to the college–yet the professor only made $2,000 to teach them. A full-time load for a professor is 3 courses, which means the person giving students what they pay for receives $6,000 to deliver on $150,000 worth of student tuition. It goes without saying that we worked without pension or benefits. That’s messed up.

    The other school screwed its students by offering an accelerated course without really delivering what a college degree should give. I had to submit two syllabi for each class–one that met the State’s rigorous standards for oure accelerated course of study, one that I actually taught to the class. (I was praised for doing this well.) The padded syllabi went to the State to maintain the school’s accreditation, the real syllabi went to the students. The reason was that our students, who were juggling work, family and college, simply couldn’t keep up with the State’s requirements, yet the school had sold them on the idea of an accelerated course. Also, many of my students had no business being in college yet–they needed too much in the way of remedial courses, but the college wasn’t going to tell them something they didn’t want to hear.

    Here’s my advice for anyone seeking to enter college:

    1.) Make sure they have strong placement exams. Yes, this may end up forcing you to take extra courses before you get to the real ones, but it’s better than graduating without the skills you need for your job.

    2.) Ask what supervision and support teachers have. Do they have standardized syllabi for their core courses (a good thing) or are teachers allowed to ‘teach to their strengths,’ which usually means teachers receive no help and support.

    3.) Ask about their plagiarism policy. Schools with strong, you-cross-this-line-we-whack-you policies tend to be good institutions committed to their students. This is an excellent litmus test. A wishy-washy, touchy-feelie policy on plagiarism means the institution is more dedicated to scooping up student cash than to its academics.

    4.) Consider spending two years at a community college then transferring to a 4-year university. You get two years to acclamate to college in a nurturing environment, two years of cheap credits, but you still end up with a decent, 4-year degree.

    I’ve seen a few veterans get totally screwed by the two placed I taught. Both schools were not-for-profit, and thus supposedly the good guys.

    But most students are currently getting screwed due to low adjunct pay. At any school, most of your ‘professors’ are making $1,950 – $2,500 per course, which works out to about $8.50 – $11.00 an hour when you add in preparation, so many tend to do the minimum amount of work. From this standpoint, the GI Bill is a total pork-filled gravy-train to all but the community colleges, which don’t charge much per credit, and the elite universities, which are priced beyond the GI Bill. Many teachers will try to do a good job, regardless, but low adjunct pay means that veterans (and most other college students) aren’t receiving the attention they need to learn.

    Sorry. You guys deserve better.

  17. Matt M says:

    ok so what are some safe online colleges to go to that do give a respectful degree

  18. I hope they are able to get everthing cleared up.

  19. Catherine says:

    What you want to check out is their accreditation first.
    You’re looking to see if it’s nationally or regionally accredited.
    MOST traditional colleges and universities are regionally accredited.
    After that, check and see if the online program is mimicked after a brick and mortar program. A school like Penn State has a huge online/distance learning program, but its based off their regular curriculum.
    And if you care to dig even further, look into the school’s stats. All schools should be able to provide you completion and graduation rates. Everyone cares about numbers, and you should too. If a school completes or graduates a very low percentage of students that can be a red flag.

    Unfortunately there is no easy way to answer this question. But talking to a counselor at your local education center, someone not necessarily a representative of the school itself can help too.

  20. Tyler F says:

    So I have been a student at westwood for almost 3 years now, and while they did promise me things when I graduate, I knew better and took it with a grain of salt. After all, I just want the degree. The problem I am having with them is that they origianlly promised me that all of my books were included in my tuition, and thus would be covered under the G.I. Bill. About one year later the finance dept. at westwood contacted me and told me that the VA is not paying the bill for the books, something that the school told me they would do, and expect me to pay the backlog for all of the books I hap purchased. I am still trying to graduate, and have only 6 months left, and am worried that if this becomes more of an issue they will not let me graduate, and their credits do not transfer anywhere. They use heavy handed techniques to force people into paying these bills. Hopefully after I graduate, the VA can step in and lay the hammer down on these unpatriotic, selfish crooks who take advantage of young people who are just trying to better themselves, not to mention what some of us went through to get these benefits that they are manipulating.