Veterans’ education benefits are being undermined by the federal government, according to officials with two prominent advocacy organizations focused on student veterans.
In a New York Times op-ed this week, the groups write that President Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has “elected to eviscerate student protections and quality controls for colleges — particularly those governing the often low-quality, predatory for-profit colleges that target veterans in their marketing schemes.”
DeVos has come under criticism for her ties to the for-profit sector — and her lack of experience in government and public education — since her nomination as education secretary, and she has overseen efforts to undo Obama-era higher education rules.
Notably, despite significant opposition from vets groups and others, DeVos eliminated a rule that held for-profit colleges accountable for their graduates’ ability to find gainful employment. James Schmeling, executive vice president of Student Veterans of America, and Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success, write that the secretary has also fought, and is now stalling, a rule that clarified how students defrauded by schools could seek loan forgiveness.
DeVos also recently reinstated the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or ACICS, which her predecessors had stopped recognizing because they said it did too little to hold schools accountable. Among those schools were the Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute, which each closed suddenly, in 2015 and 2016 respectively, leaving thousands of student veterans in the lurch.
Their demise, which left students stranded with substantial student debt and credits that other schools may not recognize, became the impetus for a provision in the new Forever GI Bill law that restores education benefits to veteran victims of abrupt school closures.
The Education Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment by press time, but department spokeswoman Liz Hill said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed about ACICS that a federal judge had found the Obama administration had failed to consider all of the evidence, and the department could not enforce an “invalid” decision.
Hill has also told Military Times previously that the department’s aim is to protect students from predatory practices, but the Obama administration’s rulemaking had “led to a cumbersome and confusing process that’s unfair to students and schools, and puts taxpayers on the hook for significant costs.”
Schmeling and Wofford take a special interest in DeVos’ actions related to for-profit colleges because although federal law states that these schools must not receive more than 90 percent of their funding from federal student loans and grants, some take advantage of an exception that considers GI Bill funds as private dollars.
And by cutting back accountability for for-profit schools, Schmeling and Wofford argue that the country’s top education official has undermined the value of the GI Bill.
“Politicians of both stripes speak out for veterans on the campaign trail. It’s time to back up that talk with bipartisan oversight of colleges that seek GI Bill funding, bipartisan legislation to close the 90/10 loophole and a bipartisan hearing that puts serious questions to the Education Department’s leadership,” they write. “The public supports standing up for our military. Congress can start by standing up to Secretary DeVos.”
Natalie Gross has been reporting for Military Times since 2017. She grew up in a military family and has a master's degree in journalism from Georgetown University.