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Trump Administration Clears For-Profit Colleges To Register Veterans Again

Jul 16, 2020
Originally published on July 17, 2020 3:26 pm

For the second time in two months, the Trump administration has sided with the for-profit college industry over a key constituency: veterans. In May, the president vetoed a bipartisan bill promoting debt forgiveness for veterans who were defrauded by for-profit schools. Now, the Department of Veterans Affairs is allowing two repeat-offending schools access to GI Bill money.

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission laid enormous penalties on several colleges for deceptive advertising. One of the schools had been caught pretending to be affiliated with the Army in one of its online recruiting sites. Another, the University of Phoenix, agreed to pay $191 million for misleading students about job placements.

Reporting of deceptive practices triggered the VA to block the University of Phoenix, Perdoceo Education Corp. — in addition to Bellevue University and Temple University — from enrolling GI Bill students.

"The law says the secretary shall not approve GI bill money for schools that use deceptive recruiting," says Carrie Wofford with Veterans Education Success, an advocacy group.

That'd be a huge blow to the for-profit schools, which need GI Bill funding to take advantage of a legal loophole in what's called the 90-10 rule. The rule requires schools to get a minimum of 10% of their funds from sources other than government aid. The loophole says GI Bill funds don't count toward that 90% maximum quota of federal aid. University of Phoenix is the largest recipient of GI Bill funds in the 80-year history of the program.

After the FTC settlement, the VA announced in March that it would block the offending schools from enrolling GI bill students. But Wofford says intense lobbying by the for-profit school industry ensued, and on the eve of the July Fourth holiday, the VA lifted the ban.

"University of Phoenix, Perdoceo Education Corporation, Bellevue University and Temple University have taken adequate corrective measures," VA spokeswoman Christina Noel said in an email to NPR. She said that included restitution to some students, changes in leadership at the schools and cooperation with VA reviews.

"VA will continue to act in the best interest of our nation's servicemembers, veterans and taxpayers, and we look forward to working with these schools to ensure they fulfill the requirements for GI Bill enrollments," Noel said.

University of Phoenix put out a statement praising the Trump administration's decision.

"The University has always respected that student veterans have earned the right to choose the institutions that best fit their needs, and this news vindicates that principle," the statement read.

Wofford says she's disappointed but not surprised.

"It feels like yet another blow to veterans and students in order to help predatory for-profit colleges that keep getting caught by federal and state law enforcement for breaking the law," Wofford said.

Tasha Berkhalter lost all her GI Bill money, and went in to debt, at ITT Tech in Indiana. Berkhalter says not enough has been done to help veterans like her.

"We always say in the military that you leave no soldier behind and I definitely feel left behind, by my president, by my government," Berkhalter said.

When Berkhalter graduated, she discovered that her four-year degree in criminal justice was worthless — not recognized by employers or other schools.

A bipartisan bill would have provided debt forgiveness to veterans defrauded by schools like ITT, but President Trump vetoed it in May. Now Berkhalter says she's struggling to feed her family.

"It is an elephant on your back," she said. "I don't have $100,000 to just go pay it off and be done with it. We have four kids. Our faith keeps us, we believe in God and that's kind of what's keeping us afloat."

There is another bipartisan bill in Congress that would change the law and limit access by for-profit colleges to GI Bill dollars. It's unlikely to be signed this year.

: 7/16/20

A previous version of this story incorrectly implied that all four schools mentioned in the VA's decision were for-profit universities that have repeatedly been accused of deceptive practices. Temple University and Bellevue University are nonprofit schools with little or no record of GI Bill complaints.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For the second time recently, the Trump administration appeared to take sides in a debate over veterans. Some veterans borrowed money to attend for-profit colleges, and they say the schools defrauded them, giving little or nothing for the money. A bipartisan bill passed Congress promising debt forgiveness for veterans who were defrauded, which the president vetoed in May. Now the Department of Veterans Affairs is allowing several repeat-offending schools access to money from the federal GI Bill. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: The University of Phoenix, an online school that heavily targets veterans for recruitment, has received the most GI Bill money of any school in history. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission extracted $191 million from Phoenix for deceptive advertising. That should have triggered the VA to block the school from GI Bill students, says Carrie Wofford with Veterans Education Success, an advocacy group.

CARRIE WOFFORD: The law says the secretary shall not approve GI Bill enrollment at schools that use deceptive recruiting.

LAWRENCE: Then, just before the July Fourth holiday, the VA announced that Phoenix and three others had done enough to correct their behavior and can enroll GI Bill students again. University of Phoenix put out a statement praising the Trump administration's decision. Wofford says she's disappointed but not surprised.

WOFFORD: It just feels like yet another blow to veterans and students in order to help predatory for-profit colleges that keep getting caught by the federal and state law enforcement breaking the law.

LAWRENCE: The VA said by email that the schools University of Phoenix, Perdoceo Education Corporation, Bellevue University and Temple University have taken adequate corrective measures. That included things like restitution, changes in leadership and cooperation with VA reviews. And VA says it will ensure the schools stay in compliance to prevent future violations. But some veterans say that's not enough.

TASHA BERKHALTER: We always say in the military, you know, you leave no soldier behind. And I definitely feel left behind by my president, by our government.

LAWRENCE: Tasha Berkhalter lost all her GI Bill money and went into debt at ITT Tech in Indiana. When she graduated, she discovered that her four-year degree in criminal justice was worthless, not recognized by employers or other schools. ITT went bankrupt in 2016 after the government banned it from federal student aid following years of complaints. A bipartisan bill would have provided debt forgiveness to vets defrauded by schools like ITT, but President Trump vetoed it in May. Now Berkhalter says she's struggling to feed her family.

BERKHALTER: It definitely is a elephant on your back, you know? I don't have $100,000 to just go pay it off and be done with it. We have four kids. You know, I'm married. Bills don't stop. You know, things happen. Our faith keeps us. We believe in God, and that's kind of just what's keeping us afloat, you know?

LAWRENCE: There is another bipartisan bill in Congress that would change the law and limit for-profit colleges' access to GI Bill dollars. It's unlikely to be signed this year.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News.

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