While most schools are genuinely interested in helping you succeed, there are a handful that have proven unscrupulous in their aggressive targeting of military and veteran students’ GI Bill benefits.
Chris Neiweem, an Iraq war veteran who once worked as a recruiter at a for-profit school, urges transitioning military and veterans heading to school to take their time.
“Veterans looking to make a decision about college can take action to protect themselves from making bad decisions by simply taking their time to do the research,” said Neiweem, who later served as a legislative associate for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). “For-profit schools, public universities, private universities and the variety of programs they offer all are different.”
You worked hard and risked your life for the GI Bill benefits you earned. It pays to protect them. Here are some tips to help.
1) Take Advantage of TAP
If you are still active duty, take advantage of the resources Uncle Sam provides. If college is your goal, opt for the two-day Accessing Higher Education track that teaches transitioning service members how to research and compare institutions, how to finance their education, and how to apply to college.
If a vocational school is your destination, sign up for the two-day Career Technical Training Track before you separate or retire. It helps transitioners select technical training fields and accredited schools.
2) Do Your Homework!
There are many resources that can help you gauge the quality of the institutions you are considering. You need to know the total cost (are there fees for dropping or adding classes, equipment, labs, etc.?). You should know what percentage of students graduate, what percentage of recent graduates defaulted on their loans, and what salary the average graduate earns.
Here are a few resources to help with your research:
- VA GI Bill Comparison Tool: This website provides graduation rates, student loan default rates and median borrowing amounts – all measures of quality. Schools not listed are not approved for GI Bill benefits.
- Department of Education’s College Scoreboard: You can plug in the degree, program, location, and school size to search for a school that best fits your needs. The results will show you average annual cost, graduation and retention rates, average salary for graduates, and academic programs the institution offers.
- Department of Education’s College Navigator: This is a free consumer tool to help students research more than 7,000 institutions, allowing you to filter by institution type, majors/programs, location and name.
Neiweem urges prospective student veterans to use the Internet to their advantage.
“Ask for testimonials of alumni, research press clips of the school, and look into public feedback that are available from the VA and other sources,” he says. “Research the programs and take your time, and it will work better in the
3) Check Accreditation
Be sure your prospective school is accredited by a reputable agency, especially if you plan to transfer or are pursuing a career that requires a license such as nursing. There are three kinds of accreditation:
- Regional: This is the most widely recognized type of accreditation. There are six regional accrediting agencies, and the institutions they accredit are typically academically oriented, nonprofit or state-owned.
- National: This historically has been used by technical and career schools. Regionally accredited schools don’t usually accept national accreditation.
- Specialized: This is program-based accreditation common in professions such as medicine, law, engineering and dentistry.
You can check the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s list of recognized accrediting organizations to identify whether the accrediting body is national or regional.
4) Principles of Excellence
Check the VA’s website to see if your list of prospective schools participate in the VA’s Principles of Excellence program. Institutions that participate agree to follow guidelines that are military/veteran specific.
5) Beware of Pressure
If a school representative is pressuring you to commit quickly, that could be a red flag.
“The one aspect of for-profit education I am wary of, based on practical experience, is sales officials who are incentivized to push students into a program at those schools – and that is where problems emerge,” Neiweem says. “Public discussion and recent legislation restoring educational benefits to some veterans who pursued education at schools that have now closed should serve as one clear reason for veterans to take more time to decide which format of education to pursue, and not less time to decide.”
Better for Veterans Call Out
The “Better for Veterans” white paper calls for a public-private partnership to urge institutions to commit to being “Better for Veterans” in their policies, programs and practices.