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For-profit colleges lose incentive to target vets under bills

February 16, 2012

For-profit colleges would lose a financial incentive to enroll soldiers and veterans under U.S. Senate and House bills aimed at curbing what sponsors call aggressive marketing of subpar programs.

For-profit colleges such as Apollo Group Inc. can get as much as 90 percent of their revenue from federal financial-aid programs.

Carmel-based ITT Educational Services Inc., one of the country's largest for-profit education providers, received $99 million in veterans' education benefits in the most recent academic year, according to a Senate report. 

Eight for-profit college companies received about $626 million in veterans’ education benefits in the most recent academic year. The eight include Phoenix-based Apollo Group Inc., which owns University of Phoenix, the largest chain by enrollment; and Pittsburgh-based Education Management Corp., the second-biggest.

Apollo received $133 million in veterans’ education benefits, the report said.Education Management got $113 million.

Schools solicit troops partly because their government-tuition programs are excluded from that cap. Under bills being introduced Wednesday by two Democrats, Delaware Senator Thomas Carper and California Congresswoman Jackie Speier, that money would count toward the limit.

Richard Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, and Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who’s chairman of the Senate education committee, sponsored a similar bill in January that would lower the total amount colleges could receive from government programs to 85 percent.

The law should be changed to protect taxpayers and current and former military members, according to a summary of the Senate bill. For-profit colleges and John Kline, the Minnesota Republican who chairs the House education committee, have said such aid restrictions would reduce educational access for veterans who have been neglected by traditional schools.

“We have a responsibility to our taxpayers, our service members and our veterans to make sure that when our warriors start their new career as students, that they aren’t subjected to unfair or abusive practices while using the benefits they worked so hard to earn,” Carper, who chairs the Senate subcommittee on federal financial management, said in a prepared statement.

Congress enacted the cap on federal aid to for-profit colleges as an antifraud provision, so that students — or employers who paid for their continuing education — were investing some of their own money in the tuition. Before 1998, the law had an 85-percent cap.

Congress, the Education Department, Justice Department and state attorneys general are scrutinizing the sales practices and student-loan default rates of for-profit colleges, which received almost $32 billion in federal grants and loans in the 2009-2010 school year.

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