For-profit schools taking advantage of veterans, Mississippi Center for Justice charges

Clarion Ledger

Jimmie E. Gates
For-profit schools prey on Mississippi veterans by getting their education assistance benefits but providing, in turn, an inferior education, charges the nonprofit Mississippi Center for Justice.

Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, more than $83 million GI Bill funds went to Mississippi schools. For-profit schools received 14 percent of the funds, although they enroll only 7 percent of the students. These trends are mirrored nationally, but Mississippi veterans are hit especially hard, as the state is chronically plagued by high rates of poverty, increasing unemployment rates, low educational success and rampant use of predatory loans, according to an 18-page report issued on Veterans Day by the Center for Justice.

“We understand these for-profit schools may fill a gap, but we have to question the benefits to taxpayers,” said analyst Matt Williams, policy analyst with the Mississippi Center for Justice.

Milton Anderson, president of the Jackson campus of Virginia College, said MCJ’s criticism presents a simplistic comparison of educational institutions in Mississippi.“Virginia College is proud of its record of graduating veterans and placing them in jobs related to their training,” he said. “Community colleges and private nonprofit institutions do not routinely report placement rates, so it is impossible to know the outcomes of their graduates or their ability to deliver on their promises.”

Williamson said once the GI Bill funds are spent, they are gone for good. Under the GI bill, with education assistance for the period from last August to July 2014, all tuition and fees are paid for those students at in-state public schools. At private and foreign schools, the maximum is $19,138 an academic year in most states.
For-profits schools are motivated more by profit than educational success, the report says. Students at for-profits are spending massive amounts of public tax dollars, while yielding little to no return on investment.

When compared to traditionally higher-cost, private, nonprofit institutions, post-9/11 veterans spent $2,933 more per student at for-profits. Post-9/11 veterans attending for-profits from 2009-13 spent $11,900 more than those attending community colleges and $10,321 more than those attending all traditional public colleges or universities.

The report says: “Multiplied by hundreds of post-9/11 veterans, it is clear that for-profits impose a proportionally larger financial impact on veterans than public institutions. Of the available post-secondary options, for-profits are not only the most expensive but also yield low rates of loan repayment and graduation.”

For instance, while the Jackson campus of Virginia College has a three-year graduation rate of 25.6 percent, Millsaps College, a private nonprofit school in Jackson, has a 66 percent rate, according to the report. The report says spending differences at for-profits may be linked to program duration and type, but veterans obtain similar rewards at community colleges, while spending three times less than they would at a typical for-profit. This savings allows veterans to apply benefits to further education, while those attending for-profits exit with limited benefits to apply elsewhere.

But Anderson said it is important to understand the big picture. “Nationally, since 2009 we have enrolled more than 8,000 military students and today about 15 percent of our 18,000 students are affiliated in some way with the military.

“Systemwide in 2011, our veteran graduate placement rate was 74 percent, rising to 79 percent in 2012. For year-to-date in 2013, Virginia College-Jackson has graduated 29 veterans, with a career placement rate of 68 percent,” Anderson said.

Nationally, Virginia College was rated third by the Military Times in its 2014 “Best for Vets: Career & Technical Colleges” ranking, Anderson says.
The MCJ report concluded that greater accountability is needed and could be accomplished through regulatory change by the U.S. Department of Education and the state Commission of Proprietary Schools and College Registration.

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkins, D-Iowa, has said federal tax dollars are being spent to “pay for failure.”

On Monday, the state College Board issued a statement saying Mississippi public universities understand the special skills and attributes veteran students bring to the classroom and university and work hard to provide the services, staff, facilities and organizations these students need to be as successful in college as they were in the armed forces.