Veterans, the GI Bill and For-Profit Colleges


Last night, Frontline’s “Educating Sgt. Pantzke” highlighted the ongoing struggle veterans have dealing with earning a college degree once they leave the military. Frontline’s piece centers around the claim that these, mostly online, colleges allegedly offer full support for military students, but in the end, leave them with tens of thousands of dollars in debt and no degree.

Many of these colleges — University of Phoenix, Westwood College, Strayer University, Ashford University, Kaplan University, DeVry University — have pages that show their policies for military students.

What’s your opinion on these colleges? Have you had similar experiences?


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  1. These colleges are like any other business – they make money off of ill informed consumers. A degree is only worth the effort, reputation of the school, and ability of the holder of the degree. Just b/c you have a degree does not mean you are smart – just b/c you do not have a degree does not make you dumb. Why would you get a degree from one of these places in the first place?

  2. “For-profit” schools are just that, for profit. They are in it for the money. These schools have become a multi-billion dollar industry that feed off the tax payer and provide for our elected officials. They don’t care about the students or the quality of education provided.

  3. As a college professor for over 20 years, I have to suggest that these organizations are black holes. I know of one Army spouse who has accrued over $50k in school debt from one of these places and she has nothing to show for it. These organizations are as bad as the predatory lenders.

    To get a degree, it takes commitment and time. I was dirt poor while I got my doctorate. Lived with three roommates, shared costs, ate rice and beans or ramen noodles. It paid off. Most college degrees take less time that a doctorate. If you want a college degree: find a school, move into a dorm (or find an apartment with roommates), make the sacrifices and go to class. Half the value of the education is simply interacting with other students and faculty in a traditional environment. Nothing comes easy and life and college degrees should be no different.

  4. These “For-Profit” colleges do provide a service that many traditional four year colleges cannot provide which is a virtual classroom. I do not want to debate the virtues of online learning but these colleges do share accreditation with other major colleges so they meet the same basic standard. I know University of Phoenix does not have the same ring as “Yale” or “Duke” but that is up for your future employer to decide.
    The issue about the student debt is a little unfounded as well. I know plenty of people who have over $100K in debt and have nothing to show for it but a worthless piece of paper. We have all been severely fooled if you think any university cares about student debt. If they did in fact care they would do away with degrees in “Leisure Studies, etc.” They are more than happy to allow you to waste your money for 4-6 years getting a degree that will not prepare you for any job out there just as long as you pay your tuition.
    I have attended both online and traditional colleges and I found the quality of education comparable at both. The online university required tremendous amounts of discipline and self-study while the traditional required more of your physical presence but less self-study. I prefer the traditional setting because of my science specific degree in which going to a lab is impossible. So for me the online university’s flexibility at the time was the correct choice because of the schedule allowed me to pursue my education but once I was done with the military I finished my last two years in the traditional setting.
    These “For-Profit” universities saw a market of millions of adults that were unable to put their lives on hold to pursue education and took risk by investing in the business of education. We should not punish them for pursuing a profit but we should hold them accountable for meeting the standards of higher education. When I was at the traditional college I was overwhelmed with the fees I paid and it was hard to say that the university was not making millions of dollars off of these mandatory fees. My favorite was the one for using the fitness centers which came out to around $154 a student per semester regardless if you ever stepped foot inside of one of these facilities. Tell me that is not profit.

  5. it is not a profit if it cost $154,000 to run the gym and there are 1,000 students paying the $154 – there is a difference between fees spread across the student body as a whole and profits for the university – I used the gyms but did not use other facilities that I paid for like student lounges or student theatres etc… these were not profit generating mechanisms though

    you are correct though that these for-profit universities filled a void – but again, I will go back to my original point which is that you get out of a degree what you put into it not what you pay for it

  6. To Tommy,

    You make some good points, but — having both attended and worked for these schools — I can tell you that they are indeed predatory. Sure, you can go to a tertiary institution that is still for-profit, still end up with debt, and still be S.O.L. However the recruiting practices of these colleges is where much of the bad business happens. Many adult and non-traditional students have little to no idea about what to expect when looking for a school. The recruiters, many of which work solely with the student over the phone, wheel and deal and make promises that they nor their institution ever have any intention of keeping. Military folks especially are good at following orders but often bad at questioning what these glorified used car salesmen tell them.
    And Tommy I don’t know what state you live in, but I attend and work for the University of Pittsburgh and they have a budget of millions of dollars, but they do not have a “profit” at least where the students, staff, and faculty are concerned. Money may be mismanaged, but if you think public education workers are rolling in dough, you are highly misinformed.

  7. J Dickenson on

    There was an argument to be made initially that that these schools filled a need with online classes. However, so many public schools have turned to online courses that’s no longer a valid argument. Everyone from Duke to Loyola to Penn State has online courses these days…

  8. To Mike,
    The college I attended was very open about their finances and the “profit” that I speak of is their “surplus funds” at the end of the fiscal year. It was in excess of over a million that students paid in that was not spent. In the past this money has been used for several questionable projects but it is getting better on accountability and student voice in how our fees in excess are used instead of refunded back to us for being overcharged.

    To JMP,
    I have several friends that are college professors and it is a shame at the salaries colleges get away with paying. The high cost for the education of college professors pales in comparison to other professionals who have spent far less on their education. It is truely a disservice to educators and it shows the value of what we as an American society place on our education. I do agree that the recruiting process of some of these colleges is absolutely absurd and some are even endorsed by the military. I was at a professional military school for junior level managers and a college (not mentioned above) was allowed to come in and talk to us about their college and how it was great, and they gave us books for our classes that cost $750 a pop.

  9. From my personal experience I would recommend to any fellow veteran to attend a state university and to steer clear of these for profit colleges. They value their stockholders more than their students.

    I went to ITT Tech in hopes of getting my B.Sc. in construction management so I could get into a construction or civil engineering company afterwards. I was very enthusiastic about my education and future opportunities.

    The first quarter passed and, to my dismay, I found their courses so non-challenging. I was getting a 4.0 grade point average but I felt that it meant nothing since other students who would not take the classes seriously and be absent for half the lectures would be getting GPA’s that were 3.5 or higher! That was the first red flag.

    After six months I started viewing these schools more critically; I felt that maybe I made a mistake. I decided that, in order to cast out my doubts about these schools, I should call some construction firms and ask the employers their opinion on ITT and other institutions like it. Each manager was very blunt when they told me they have a very low regard for these schools. Their opinions were so negative that some would never even consider hiring ITT graduates! I really felt that I was lied to by this school about my prospects. I especially felt lied to about the quality of their degrees; here I was paying top dollar ($493 per credit hour) for a degree that was essentially worthless. After six months, 24 non transferable credits, and nearly ten thousand dollars of my Chapter 33 benefits wasted, I decided to quit the school and start over in the Cal State university system.

    In conclusion: I recommend to any fellow veteran to get their degrees from their state college system. They are more respected, they have more opportunities and have great services and assistance for veterans… even in liberal states like California where I reside. I am now attending Cal Poly Pomona for my Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering with one year to go before I graduate.

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