Back to School

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Today seems to be military and veterans’ education commentary day. ROTC is back at Harvard, and both Bloomberg News and Holly Petraeus are railing on the for-profit colleges.

First the good news story: after a 40 years hiatus, ROTC is back at Harvard. The death of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has re-opened doors long closed to the military because of the discriminatory policy. This is good news. During the ban, Harvard students could still enroll in ROTC but they had to attend their military science classes across town at MIT. Letting the Navy ROTC program back on board the campus isn’t just eye-wash or a feel good measure. It’s a sign that that two cultures might actually be inching closer together. Interesting tidbit in the article: only the service academies have more Medal of Honor recipients among their alumni than Harvard.

Now, if both the Times and Bloomberg have devoted space to for-profit college stories there must be something afoot. It seems there is congressional interest: Senators Webb, Harkin and Carper are looking into the 90-10 rule which requires colleges to draw at least ten percent of their revenue from sources other than Title IV funding (where most student loans come from). The new GI-Bill funds don’t fall under Title IV so the for-profits colleges are aggressively seeking them. Petraeus and the senators believe that shifting GI Bill benefits under Title IV would limit the for-profits’ incentives to recruit service members with cognitive processing problems from Traumatic Brain Injuries.

The sums involved are noteworthy. The Bloomberg article, quoting a Senate report, claims that eight for-profit colleges collected more than $1 Billion in veterans’ benefits during the last academic year. ITT Education, a for-profit institution, received $179 million in funds last year while the University of Maryland, the highest ranking public college in terms of GI Bill funds, received $51 million.

But the real issue is how student veterans are treated. The PBS Frontline piece, “Educating Sergeant Pantzke” detailed some of the problems students with TBI or PTSD face and how some for-profit colleges handled requests for help. It isn’t pretty.

I don’t think anyone would conflate for-profit colleges like the ATI Career Center mentioned in the Bloomberg article with Harvard. And there is clearly a need for a broad range of educational venues and curricula for the 2 million returning OEF and OIF veterans. Let’s hope the Congressional oversight of our federal spending catches up with the press reporting on the bad actors.