By Debbie Gregory.
The government has spent nearly $30 billion since 2009 to send Veterans to college. Officials know that nearly 1 million Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have used their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. But no one in the government corridors can tell you how many Veterans have actually graduated.
Now, Veterans organizations fear that the lack of tracking on the government’s part will mean fewer dollars for future Veteran Education programs. Michael Dakduk, Executive Director of the Student Veterans of America, a Washington D.C. based organization, said that every previous version of the GI Bill has faced reductions of some sort. It may only be a matter of time before the Post-9/11 GI Bill does as well.
“We need to track these numbers to defend the Post-9/11 GI Bill,” Dakduk said. “It’s an investment into our military. It’s an investment into our country.”
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is the largest and most generous educational benefit package ever offered to Student Veterans. Money provided by the fund has been used for graduate and undergraduate degrees as well as technical & vocational training. Under the current Post-9/11 GI Bill, Student Veterans receive paid tuitions & fees, a stipend for books, and allowances for housing.
Some lawmakers have questioned the integrity of the schools that are receiving the funds and whether Veterans are actually receiving a legitimate education. In 2010 the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions launched a two-year long investigation into for-profit colleges. The study found that during the 2010-2011 school year, for-profit schools constituted eight of the top 10 schools that collected GI Bill funds. The University of Maryland at No. 8 and University of Texas at No. 10 were the only public institutions that made the top 10 list.
The senator committee questioned whether Veterans attending the for-profit schools were benefiting from those institutions or being taken advantage of by them to collect the generous Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. For-profit colleges can collect no more than 90 percent of their revenue from federal sources, such as Pell grants and similar U.S.-backed student aid. Because the Post-9/11 GI Bill is not counted as federal student aid, the Harkin report and others asserted that for-profit schools aggressively recruited Veterans in order to stay under the 90 percent cap.
The report cited constant phone calls by recruiters, pressuring prospective Student Veterans to sign contracts before speaking to a financial adviser, and similar tactics. The report also asserted that the money put toward the education of Veterans at these for-profit schools does not necessarily benefit them once they start looking for jobs. At a July Senate hearing before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Veterans advocates complained that for-profit schools “target” Veterans as “nothing more than dollar signs in uniform.”
Advocates say that without a tracking system to see how many Vets are actually graduating and securing jobs, doubts about for-profit schools and the benefit of spending billions of dollars on Veteran education could eventually convince lawmakers to reduce or even cut the program completely.
The Student Veterans of America announced that it would collect college graduation rates for Student Veterans. Numbers aren’t expected until later this year. The project, estimated to cost $300,000 is still awaiting financial backing. Veteran Schools have also begun their own counts of military students. Arizona State University calculates Veteran retention rates by tracking Veteran Students within larger university-wide surveys.