By Bryant Jordan
Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, a key supporter of the post-9/11 GI Bill, says new legislation is needed to ensure that the education benefit isn't weakened by veterans using it at some for-profit schools that do not always meet the same educational standards as traditional institutions.
For that reason, Webb is sponsoring a bill that would require for-profit schools, including online learning programs, to meet the same standards as any other school receiving federal funding.
"Growing concerns of abuses by some educational institutions put at risk the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill itself, and the invaluable benefits it provides our veterans," Webb said in a statement. These abuses include hyped or simply untrue claims about graduation rates, graduate employment figures, and whether the school is officially accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-approved agency.
"Some for-profit institutions are providing our students a great education, but with the significant federal dollars being spent, we owe it to taxpayers and our veterans to carefully monitor and provide adequate oversight," Webb said.
There is nothing new about some schools taking advantage of GI Bills, according to Webb. Abuses by for-profit vocational schools led to more restrictions on the World War II-era package and ultimately to it being watered down for veterans of Korea and Vietnam, he said.
Webb testified in September that for-profit schools have been netting a disproportionate amount of GI Bill money based on their numbers of veteran students. Eight of the top 10 recipients of Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits in 2010-2011 were for-profit education companies that brought in $1 billion -- 37 percent of benefits -- but trained 25 percent of veterans, he told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Some of the provisions of Webb's bill were endorsed at the same hearing by Russell Kitchner, vice president of regulatory and governmental relations for American Public University System, which operates American Military University.
Kitchner told the committee that tracking a school's graduation rate and employment records of alumni is a good way to measure how well it's succeeding in educating its students, including veterans.
Webb's bill includes provisions for more transparency on the part of schools, as well as assurances that veteran students have support services.
Webb's bill would also mandate that for-profit schools meet the same federal requirements that apply to schools that receive federal funding, including Pell Grants. These requirements require a school have a drop-out rate no greater than 33 percent.
Webb's bill would also mandate that schools reveal their loan default rates. For schools with at least 20 students attending on the GI Bill, there would have to be one-on-one counseling available prior to enrollment to plan a course of education.
Webb's proposal would require audits of the schools by relevant state agencies while the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Defense Department develop a centralized complaint process to report fraud or misrepresentation.