Does the government need to do more to protect vets seeking a degree?

Democrats are pushing for a bill that would cap the amount of federal money for-profit colleges can use, partly to protect veterans using the GI Bill to obtain a degree. 

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
A woman holds a U.S. national flag during a Veterans Day ceremony held at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, Wednesday. The White House is pushing a bill to cap how much money for-profit colleges can use from the GI Bill that they say impacts veterans.

The White House wants to use Veterans Day to encourage Congress to pass a bill designed to cap the revenue that for-profit colleges can get from federal loans and grants at 85 percent, The Washington Post reported.

"This ramps up the accountability for schools that are marketing to veterans and other students who come with federal dollars, and to make sure that we are providing a high quality education for the veterans who have served us so well," Cecilia Muñoz, the White House’s domestic policy director, told reporters Tuesday. 

Veterans can use the GI Bill to obtain a degree after military service, but the availability of federal funding for schooling does not guarantee a successful school experience. In part because some vets lie outside the demographic that the university system typically targets, too many are falling into a rut of academic non-achievement.

But some observers also argue that some of the for-profit schools that target vets (and the $57 billion in federal funding that they represent) may also be to blame for unsatisfactory educational outcomes. 

The for-profit schools often offer no-frill, skill-oriented programs far from the leafy campuses and more intensely academic programs offered by traditional colleges.

"Proprietary schools are typically unadorned operations found in strip malls, office buildings, and online, offering flexible schedules and frequent enrollment periods," wrote Neal McCluskey for the National Review. "They are intended to be places where you can get the skills or credential you need, quickly, because you’ve got kids and a job to worry about."

The graduation rates are lower at these for-profit colleges, the default rates for federal loans are higher, and the average tuition costs sit somewhere between state and private universities, McCluskey wrote. The Republican contention, though, is that the graduation rates at for-profit schools are comparable for those of lower-income, kids-and-a-job-plus-night-classes students attending a nonprofit or public school. Conservatives also point out that nonprofit university tuition rates have risen dramatically alongside administrators salaries.

Critics of for-profit colleges say the type of student the colleges "court can be particularly vulnerable," wrote Gillian White for The Atlantic.

Some of these "particularly vulnerable" students, the White House contends, are veterans with GI Bill money to spend on school. Veterans have fought for their country and learned valuable skills, but not all of them translate to a college classroom, The Christian Science Monitor reported. Only one quarter of post-9/11 veterans finished a degree before their government funding ran out, according to a 2012 Census Bureau survey.

While Congress debates how to transform the country's higher education system into a more veteran-friendly operation, organizations are cropping up to support veterans wherever they are in their schooling. These organizations include the Posse Veterans Program, which provides monetary support and camaraderie, and the Warrior-Scholar Project, a college immersion boot camp. 

"The data is inconsistent, but none of it is good for veterans," Sidney Ellington, the executive director of the Warrior-Scholar Project, told The Christian Science Monitor. "So we’re trying to fill that gap, and enable these veterans to actually get something out of their GI Bill before it’s exhausted."

The study skills and support have helped some veterans turn their military discipline to tests and term papers. 

"I wouldn’t have gotten A’s otherwise,” Matthew Maclaine, a Marine who served in Afghanistan and participated in the Warrior-Scholar Project, told The Christian Science Monitor. “I went into English and Algebra class and just crushed it – I destroyed those classes.” 

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