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Veterans Group Assails VA Reversal, Now Greenlighting G.I. Bill Funds for "Predatory" Colleges

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Friday, July 10, 2020   

Correction: Title was changed to accurately reflect attribution for the word "Predatory." Original title was "VA Says Predatory Colleges Can Accept GI Bill Students" (7:35 pm MST, 7/13/2020), correct that Bellevue and Temple University are nonprofits, and add response from Bellevue University (12:45 pm MST, 7/15/2020)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A handful of colleges with a history of misleading advertising can continue recruiting GI Bill students, in an apparent reversal of course by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The move comes just a few months after the agency warned the schools they would be cut off from access to GI Bill benefits if they continued to use false data and predatory tactics aimed at luring people to enroll.

Tanya Ang, vice president of the group Veterans Education Success, says there's little evidence the schools -- including the University of Phoenix -- have changed their ways.

"We have just heard recently from whistleblowers that some of the schools have not curbed their actions," says Ang. "But have instead ramped up their marketing and advertising during the current national crisis with COVID."

Other schools that received warnings include American Intercontinental University, Bellevue University, Colorado Tech and Temple University. Bellevue and Temple are nonprofit schools.

When contacted for comment, Cris Hay-Merchant from Bellevue University expressed satisfaction, "Bellevue University is very pleased that the Department of Veterans Affairs has determined that the matter has been satisfactorily resolved. We look forward to continuing to work with the VA and to serving our nation's service members and their families."

Federal law forbids the VA from paying out GI Bill funds to schools that engage in deceptive advertising and enrollment practices.

The VA's warnings were triggered by a slew of legal actions, including a nearly $200 million settlement by the University of Phoenix with the Federal Trade Commission.

Ang says these schools often aggressively pursue students, overstate their job prospects - and in some cases, aren't even certified for the programs they purport to teach.

"When you're a first-generation student, and then all of a sudden the school is massively targeting you," says Ang. "Calling you, calling you 10 to 15 times a day, sending you emails. These students are like, 'Oh my gosh, this school really wants me to attend here.'"

Ang says several Tennessee lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Phil Roe of Johnson City and Sen. Lamar Alexander, both Republicans, have been active in supporting more oversight of for-profit colleges.

"We have worked really hard with both sides of the aisle to find a bipartisan bill that would protect military-connected students from being targeted and preyed upon by these colleges," says Ang.

According to 2018 data from the VA, more than 16,000 veteran students in Tennessee and their family members are using GI Bill benefits to further their education.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.




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