While chairing a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) praised the work that Northern Illinois University has done to make serving veterans and servicemembers a priority.
During an April 3, 2013 visit to Northern Illinois University, Durbin sat down with several student veterans and program administrators to discuss their experience and hear how the Military Student Services office has improved their life on campus. Durbin pointed out the vast differences between quality institutions like Northern Illinois and for-profit colleges, which far too often offer low-quality degrees and market aggressively to veterans in order to benefit from federal tuition assistance programs.
"Earlier this year in my home state, I visited Northern Illinois University, whose programs for service members and veterans are nothing short of exemplary," said Durbin. "Its Military Student Services program has received numerous awards, including one of the top 50 "Best for Vets" four-year colleges in the country according to the Military Times in 2013. GI Jobs ranks Northern Illinois University's programs among the top 15% nationwide."
Also at today's hearing, Durbin criticized the harmful recruiting tactics of some for-profit colleges and said that federal aid through the Defense Department's voluntary military education programs -- Tuition Assistance for servicemembers and MyCAA for their spouses -- should be focused on educating, rather than marketing. Further, Durbin said that American taxpayers cannot afford and should not be asked to subsidize massive for-profit college marketing and recruiting machines. He called on the Defense Department to strengthen oversight of federal funds and increase the quality of education within the program.
For-profit institutions of higher education enroll about 12% of all college students, but take in 25% of the Department of Education's federal student aid funds and account for 47% of student loan defaults. For-profit colleges have much higher three year student loan cohort default rate of 22.7%, compared with 11% at public schools and 7.5% at private, non-profit schools.
Similarly, while for-profit schools are a minority of the institutions involved in the Tuition Assistance program, they take in a disproportionate share of Tuition Assistance funding. A Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee investigation found that 41% of Tuition Assistance in FY2011 went to just six for-profit colleges: American Public Education, Inc. which includes American Military University; Bridgepoint Education, Inc.; TUI Learning LLC; Apollo Group Inc.; Columbia Southern University; and Grantham University.
The Tuition Assistance program has been growing rapidly with roughly 115,000 service members currently enrolled. In FY2012, the Defense Department spent $660 million on Tuition Assistance -- half of which went to for-profit schools. More than 36,000 military spouses access courses through the MyCAA program and, in FY2012, the Defense Department spent $66 million on MyCAA -- 60% of which went to for-profit schools.