Ask the Chief: Veterans applying to For-profit colleges

For a United States military veteran, spouse, or her (his) child under 26, education benefits earned during military service (either on Active Duty, Guard or Reserve) provide a stipend for education leading to a degree or training leading to certification. These benefits not only can be used for the tuition but provide a housing allowance to ease the potential financial burden while attending school. Though I used the GI Bill benefit for a university in the 1980s, there are many choices in college, technical and trade schools for veterans in the Post 9/11 (2001) period. Since 2017, statutory change has removed some issues that affected older veterans such as expiration of those education benefits for veterans whose Active service ended prior to 2013. The Veterans Administration has a website illustrating the different benefits here.

Obtaining employment as a veteran has been complicated by the pandemic. Many industries deemed essential, including healthcare, engineering and construction have been operating with a continuing demand for workers. However, even for veterans a technical skill without industry-recognized certification or a technical degree can slow career advancement and receipt of competitive salaries. With the burgeoning demand for healthcare and technology careers, many two – and four- year public institutions are wait-listing enrollment. As a consequence, many communities have seen an increase in the number of private for-profit schools offering programs to prepare candidates for State certification and licensing. Of importance to any prospective candidate these schools must first be approved by the State to conduct training. When was the school last approved? Additionally, they must have accreditation from regional or national Boards that monitor standards in the occupations. Which accrediting board and what is their standing? The schools must comply with state and federal regulations to allow students to obtain Federal or use GI Bill funds. Has there been any compliance issues? Another thing worth noting by prospective students is a school’s job placement rate. In contrast to colleges and universities which have no criteria about graduates working in their chosen profession, private post-secondary education are held to license and certification test performance and job placement standards. It is important for prospective students to ask for this information when canvassing a school.

In California, private post-secondary education is not under the oversight of Department of Education, but rather the Bureau for Private Post-Secondary Education, under the Department of Consumer Affairs. It should be one of the first places a veteran student goes when deciding where to enroll. Under the Approved Schools webpage, one may review the school’s annual report, performance fact sheets, and any compliance issues as well as resolution of those compliance issues. Yelp reviews, and social media claims may provide some comfort, but hard data is where veterans should find a basis for decisions. For current and future students, lessons of other students learned painfully over the last decade should serve to illustrate why one’s research in where to attend is crucial. In the midst of successful small businesses preparing students to become Nursing Assistants, Electronic Engineering Technicians, Diesel Mechanics, and Computer software and networking professionals, there are some bad performers. Some institutions are run ineptly, inefficiently or into bankruptcy. This is what occurred with ITT Technical Institute when it lost its access to federal funds. Other failed schools like California’s Corinthian Colleges and nationally, with Education Corporation of America (ECA) schools had former students (and employees) scrambling after the closing their doors. Some have not had relief from the federal Government since those events occurred. With the new Administration, former students unable to recoup losses in time spent in the classroom may yet obtain debt relief.

In 2021, President Biden signed legislation that absolves the debt of many students victimized by these failed businesses. Yet the takeaway from this story is to be prudent and sober in deciding one’s educational plan. Universities are not without their own issues of admissions scandals or tuition bruhaha over the pandemic’s shutdowns, streaming classrooms, and the previously mentioned lack of accountability for graduates being employed in their degree profession. However, thousands of graduates of institutions like National University, Kaplan University, and the vast majority of small businesses produce very qualified candidates who are working in their professions as entrepreneurs, staff of major healthcare providers, technology, services and in engineering firms nationally. And another, often overlooked factor, is the teachers and mentors in these private enterprises have often worked until recently in the industry they are teaching, bringing a wealth of real-world perspective to the classroom. In the end, it should be a well-thought out decision to attend a public or a private trade school.