House cracks down on for-profit recruiters targeting GI Bill benefits

Veterans advocacy groups lobbied lawmakers on Capitol Hill this spring.

The U.S. House of Representatives responded to military veterans’ scathing criticism of for-profit colleges last week and passed legislation that will prevent schools that accept GI Bill benefits from paying commission to recruiters.

House members passed the bill Sept. 11, four months after veterans advocates took to Capitol Hill to testify about for-profit colleges targeting service members with generous government educational benefits, many times to the detriment of the prospective students, who are recruited into schools or programs not suited to their educational needs.

The legislation drew support from Republicans and Democrats, who passed the bill and curbed for-profit schools’ incentive to push for former service members – a well-documented and controversial practice that has been at the center of several government reports since 2009.

For-profit schools have drawn a large military veterans population with expansive online course offerings that cater to nontraditional college students acclimating to civilian life.

Some of the country’s largest for-profit colleges that have attracted widespread criticism of aggressive recruiting tactics lent their public support to the Congressional legislation, known as H.R. 4057.

In a letter sent to House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, the University of Phoenix said it would support legislative efforts to better protect soldiers’ government benefits that have proven effective recruiting draws for the military over the past decade.

“We recognized … that more needed to be done to enhance and protect the Post-9-11 G.I. Bill and other vital benefits for those who have sacrificed for our country,” the university said in a statement. “That’s why we joined with various Veterans Service Organizations to outline specific reforms designed to support and protect military students.”

More than 12,000 active-duty military and veterans take University of Phoenix classes.

The U.S. Senate is expected to take up similar legislation, and lawmakers from both parties have expressed support for the measure.

A Washington, D.C.-based organization called Veterans for Common Sense released an extensive statement submitted to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs May 16 as members of Congress considered an executive order from President Obama meant to provide more college information to military veterans. The president’s executive order was panned by Congressional Republicans as a massive government overreach into an industry that did not need regulation.

The legislation passed last week also will provide veterans with a raft of information before they decide on how they’ll use their GI Bill benefits. Veterans will now have easy access to a school’s credit transfer policies, enrollment and graduation rates, student loan debt, loan default rate, licensure and certification pass rates, career counseling and job placement assistance, and availability of academic and technical support, according to the bill.

Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) last spring lent its support to Obama’s executive action, which would trademark the term “GI Bill” so it’s not used in deceiving online and TV ads.

Along with electronic advertisements bombarding soldiers’ inboxes and social media accounts, the veterans advocacy group cited for-profit college recruiters signing up Marines with brain injuries and sailors who are not told that their for-profit college credits aren’t transferable to many traditional schools.

“This is not political, it is not about free enterprise, it is about right and wrong,” PVA said in a statement. “Some of these institutions aggressively solicit veterans with combat stress-related impairments, severe traumatic brain injuries or other physical disabilities.”

Eight of the top 10 recipients of veterans’ GI Bill educational benefits are for-profit colleges, according to federal statistics. Most of that federal GI Bill money is used for marketing and advertising, according to a report from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The federal government spends about twice as much for veterans who attend for-profit schools when compared to veterans who take classes at public nonprofit colleges.