February 13, 2015
ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. —
It started as a way to help veterans re-enter the civilian workforce after World War II by providing low-interest loans and tuition assistance. Sixty-four years after it was first implemented, the GI bill underwent a major transformation, expanding to pay for even more of the cost of education. Now, the money designed to help vets with college is at the center of investigations at the state and federal level.
Seminole County mother of two Noelle Hickey spent eight years in the Navy. Hickey, who wants to be a nurse, says as she was preparing to separate from the service she was flooded with offers from schools, including dozens of for-profit universities.
“They didn’t know what I did so I don’t know why they still targeting me, but somehow they knew I was military,” said Hickey. Aggressive marketing is just one of the many charges leveled against the for-profit college industry. A July 2012 U.S. Senate report found, “... billions of taxpayer dollars spent on aggressive marketing and advertising.”
Two years after the initial report by the Senate Committee on Health, Labor, Pensions, and Education outlined abuses by the for-profit college industry, a new report by the same committee disclosed, “... top eight for-profit colleges received $2.9 billion in post-9/11 G.I. Bill funds between 2009 and 2014 and nearly 25 percent of all post-9/11 GI Bill funds in 2013.”
The Senate estimates it costs a veteran an additional $4,000 to attend a for-profit college.
“This is a problem, not just with veterans,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D – Florida). “These for-profit colleges have in some cases have fleeced their customers.” In the wake of the Senate report, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued for-profit college chain Corinthian Colleges, accusing it of an illegal predatory lending scheme.
At the time of the suit Corinthian Colleges owned four campuses in central Florida, including two in Orlando operating as Everest University. In a deal with the Department of Education (who?) agreed to sell off many of its campuses and close others.
Earlier this year the Everest locations in central Florida were sold to Zenith Education Group. Zenith said it is transforming the schools from for-profit to nonprofit. In addition, Zenith said it is working with the Veterans Administration to provide better educational opportunities for vets, as well as lowering tuition and offering an estimated $480 million in loan forgiveness.
Career Education Corporation, the parent company of Sanford-Brown, has seen a 61 percent increase in veteran enrollment since 2009. Sanford-Brown is currently in the process of closing its Orlando campus. The school, according to information provided by the U.S. Senate, had 51.4 percent of bachelor's degree students withdrawn and 61.7 percent of its associate's degree students withdrawn.
In an email to 9 Investigates, Sanford-Brown said it is important to “ ... take into account selectivity and student demographics, for they have a strong correlation to graduation rate.” The school added, “It’s also important to note that the statistics published by the Department of Education have been the subject of much debate in recent years, with many believing the methodology must be updated. They only measure 'first time, full time' students. In other words, they measure students who are attending college for the first time and who are doing so full time.”
Responding to criticism that it wasn’t doing enough to inform vets before they enroll in schools, the VA launched a compassion tool that sorts schools and shows loan default rates, graduation rates,and median borrowing. The site also shows the number of complaints, as well as if the school is accredited.