By Tanya Ang
Elisabeth is an Air Force veteran who attended Brown Mackie college using the GI Bill. As a first generation student, she believed all colleges were created equal. She chose Brown Mackie because they promised she could earn the same degree that other colleges offer but graduate in less time. She figured out too late that promise was empty and misleading. She left the school due to the growing number of lawsuits against them—and soon after, it closed. Elisabeth was left with GI Bill benefits she could not get back and college credits that would not transfer.
That is the story I heard Elisabeth share to a member of Congress in October when my organization, Veterans Education Success, joined leading military and veteran service organizations in an advocacy effort to “Storm the Hill” asking lawmakers to protect the integrity of the GI Bill.
After more than two decades of serving the needs of student veterans and their loved ones in higher education, I can affirmatively say that this election for President will be of great consequence for military-connected students because of the issues like Elisabeth and others have shared.
Ensuring military-connected students get access to high-quality education. Student veterans have statistically done just as well, if not better, than other adult learners in higher education. They worked hard for their education benefits and do not want to waste them as they prepare to be a contributing member of the civilian workforce. Unfortunately, many end up at low-quality “colleges” and training programs that prey on them for their GI Bill. This is exacerbated by a loophole (the “90/10 loophole”) in the federal Higher Education Act that incentivizes for-profit colleges—like Brown Mackie where Elisabeth attended—to target the GI Bill to offset a cap on federal student aid that for-profit companies face. Federal funds such as the GI Bill and the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Military Tuition Assistance (TA) currently do not count as federal student aid. Accountability and protections for students not only helps the students, they protect tax-payer dollars.
Protecting servicemembers, veterans, and their families from deceptive recruiting. Most military-connected students are first-generation students who believe if a program is approved by the federal government for the GI Bill, TA, or Federal Financial Aid, it must be a quality school. Not so.
As we have seen in Elisabeth’s case and that of thousands more veterans, many schools implement deceptive high-pressure recruiting tactics. They promise access to programs that will lead to jobs in their career of choice, credits that will transfer to other schools, and a shorter time frame for completing their program compared to other schools. Most often, the veteran is left with little to show for her time and effort other than looming student loans and wasted GI Bill benefits.
Protecting Student Veterans from unnecessary student debt. College affordability has been a key focus for lawmakers as student debt continues to increase in size. Many student veterans have the GI Bill benefit which covers the cost of four years at public colleges and universities. Unfortunately, some student veterans who get pulled into private low-quality schools take out student loans they had not planned on. These loans are difficult to pay back when veterans are unable to find work in their field of study because their school deceived them about job opportunities after graduation.
These are the challenges the next Congress and President will inherit—challenges that impact both the welfare and academic success of more than two million military-connected students in higher education.
Military-connected students like Elisabeth must have access to high-quality education programs that will empower them to reach their potential. It is why we continue to advocate on their behalf and recently published our Election 2020 Policy Memo. This election is a unique opportunity for incumbent and new candidates to support the true promise of the GI Bill by offering substantive reform ideas and policies. Our memo showcases policy and legislative ideas that improve the higher education outcomes of veterans.
Improving veterans’ outcomes and protecting the integrity of the GI Bill will not happen unless the next President and Congress address the urgent needs outlined above and shared by our veterans. Only then will our nation’s service members and veterans earn a degree that provides a high return on investment and find meaningful employment.
Tanya Ang is Vice President at Veterans Education Success