Opinion

Opinion: Veterans Defend Right to Attend Career Colleges

The threat against a veteran’s right to choose where they gain career schools using their earned education benefits is more serious than most might imagine. Several candidates for president have already unveiled plans to eliminate veterans’ choice in higher education. In Washington, some members of Congress introduced partisan legislation to restrict freedom of education choice among veterans. The latest bill comes from Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL). In an opinion piece for Military Times, she even broadly labeled the credentials earned by veterans at career schools as “worthless” and the institutions as “predatory.”

Then-University of Miami President Donna Shalala meets with Coast Guard and Army personnel after a 2009 Veterans Day ceremony in Coral Gables. (Coast Guard)
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Unfortunately, the Post-9/11 GI Bill has also failed thousands of American veterans in the last 11 years by allowing low-quality, for-profit educational programs to take their GI benefits and leave them with little in return.

A new movement, Veterans for Career Education (VCE), is shining a light on an overlooked group in the veterans’ community: military veterans, servicemembers and their families who graduated from or are attending taxpaying career schools (read for-profit colleges for those that continue to demonize the sector). Founded by and for veterans attending private career schools, the campaign aims to protect the right of veterans to use their earned education benefits, like the Post-9/11 GI Bill, to gain career skills at the school of their choice.

Critics of taxpaying career schools are coordinating this attack on veterans’ education choice under the guise of protecting student veterans, but proposals from anti-private career school advocates, like changing the 90/10 rule, are not aimed at protecting the military community. If that were truly the motivation, then the rule would apply to all colleges and universities. Research shows that if an expanded version of the rule applied to public and private nonprofit colleges and universities, then over 400 would fail. Additionally, research shows that more than 260 schools serving over 150,000 student veterans may be adversely impacted by manipulating the 90/10 rule.

Veterans that are students, graduates, faculty and staff at private career colleges are organizing to combat the notion that veterans are incapable of choosing the school that best fits their needs. Veterans are organizing to dispel any suggestion that they were tricked or duped into choosing a certain school. Veterans are organizing because they are outraged at learning some political activists continue to suggest that their schools and credentials are worthless.

Veteran members of VCE are proudly studying welding; nursing; commercial truck driving; cyber security; heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration; cosmetology and barbering; aviation technology; and heavy equipment like mobile cranes. Veterans are seeking these programs, and many other fields of study aligned with in-demand skilled professions, to better themselves and the American workforce. We should applaud their choice of study instead of disparaging the schools they attend.

Student veterans, servicemembers and their families using earned education benefits, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Vocational Rehabilitation, have the right to choose the school and program of study that best fits their career aspirations. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the GI Bill, Veterans for Career Education (VCE) will advance the mission of freedom of choice by providing a platform for veterans at private career schools.

Larry Goerzen is a U.S. Navy disabled veteran and student at UEI College in California. He deployed three times to the Persian Gulf. He is studying HVAC-R using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Larry is a Student Veteran Ambassador of Veterans for Career Education (VCE).

Michael Dakduk is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan and is the former head of Student Veterans of America. He is co-chair of Veterans for Career Education (VCE).

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the authors. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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