VA Launches Online Complaint System for Student Veterans! A step toward transparency

Overview

Until recently, military Servicemembers, Veterans, and dependents using federal education benefits, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill, did NOT have a formal online complaint system to report problems or poor experiences in dealing with higher education programs. On 30 January 2014, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs launched the fist official online feedback tool built to give active duty military members, student Veterans and family members the ability to report negative experiences with educational institutions while using their GI Bill. This tool was the result of joint efforts from the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Defense, Education and Justice, in coordination with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission, in response to the President’s Executive Order 13607, also known as the “Principles of Excellence.”  The new GI Bill Feedback System is a huge step forward, not only in protecting military/Veterans from higher education programs taking advantage of them through deceptive and fraudulent marketing and recruiting techniques, but also in ensuring the billions of dollars paid annually by our government and all American taxpayers are going to fund use of the GI Bill at educational programs that are most likely to help military/Veterans and dependents successfully graduate and secure meaningful careers.

Providing a Solution to Deceptive and Predatory Practices by Certain Colleges

While some higher education institutions have done an excellent job supporting military/Veterans in their transition to school, others have neglected to invest in providing programs and services to help Veterans succeed; instead, only focusing on the profit that can be made from recruiting them. Unfortunately, as a result of the comprehensive benefits guaranteed by the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Veterans have been targeted by a number of predatory colleges. As highlighted in a 2013 USNews article, there are countless horrifying, true stories of certain colleges exhibiting deceptive and fraudulent marketing practices to lure Veterans to their programs, including taking advantage of disabled Veterans! (Read up on a few highlights from the article below to understand the scale and impact of these predatory practices, or check out the full USNews report here). Thus, the new complaint and feedback tool is an important step forward in providing a centralized mechanism for military/Veterans and family members to hold higher education institutions accountable by reporting predatory practices, and should also help encourage educational programs to raise the bar in offering transparent information and high-quality services to support Servicemembers, Veterans and dependents.

    • Kaplan owns an unaccredited law school, whose graduates cannot take the bar exam (outside of California, which doesn’t require any law degree). A Kaplan law student told the U.S. Senate “The Dean [of Kaplan] apparently didn’t know or forgot to mention this little problem.”
    • Kaplan also was caught by local TV news in Charlotte, N.C. running an unaccredited dental assistance program whose graduates would never be eligible to get the job, and who said Kaplan lied to them about this key fact.
    • Many for-profit colleges go on military bases to try to sign up service members. Ashford University even signed up a Marine with traumatic brain injury convalescing in a military hospital. “U.S. Marine Corporal James Long knows he’s enrolled at Ashford University,” Businessweek reported. “He just can’t remember what course he’s taking.”
    • Career Education Corp (owner of Briarcliffe, Sanford Brown, American Intercontinental, U. Colorado Technical U and Cordon Bleu) had to pay $10.5 million for egregious lies this summer to prospective students about their job prospects.

Source: Wofford, Carrie. “This Veterans Day, Help a Vet Avoid a GI Bill Scam.” USNews. 11 Nov. 2013. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.

How This Tool Will Increase Transparency of Information and Improve Return on Investment for Veterans, Taxpayers, and the Government

It’s a widely accepted notion that education is an investment in one’s future, and perhaps one of best investments an individual can make. For that very reason, it’s disheartening to see that 8 of the 10 schools which receive the largest amount of GI Bill funding are for-profit institutions that have high dropout rates, graduate the fewest students, and are only investing a fraction of the money they receive into providing students with a valuable education (source: USNews). Like any other student, Veterans want to attain education that will translate to meaningful careers upon graduation, and taxpayers and the government also want to ensure Veterans’ education is leading to successful learning outcomes, careers and job placement, which ultimately promotes economic growth. The complaint tool gives Veterans the power to report the problems they encounter in their transition to–and from–higher education, thereby opening the door to exposing more “bad actors,” and, hopefully, promoting greater transparency of information for prospective student Veterans to review while considering which educational program will best support their needs. This tool is one of a number of new services the VA will be releasing in the coming months to help crack down on predatory and deceptive practices in higher education, improve the overall education experience for military/Veterans, and protect the investment that we, as taxpayers, all make in our Veterans’ future. Given that funding for the Post-9/11 GI Bill is expected to reach $42 billion in 2014, we all share a vested interest in holding institutions accountable and working together to ensure successful educational outcomes for Veterans! Read up on a few financial highlights below, which help illustrate just how important it is to solve this problem.

  • For-profit colleges have skyrocketed their recruitment of veterans and military students, increasing by more than 200 percent in just one year.
  • Eight of the 10 schools receiving the most G.I. Bill dollars are now for-profit colleges. The University of Phoenix alone took in more than $200 million in the two most recent years for which government data is available.
  • Those eight for-profit colleges take in $1 billion dollars in G.I. Bill funds, but almost half of veterans dropped out within the first year.
  • For-profit colleges cost taxpayers twice the tuition of public colleges and universities
  • For-profit schools collected more than one-third of all G.I. Bill funds, but trained only 25 percent of veterans, while public colleges and universities received only 40 percent of G.I. Bill benefits but trained 59 percent of veterans.
  • While public universities and non-profit colleges sink the vast majority of their funds into educating students, for-profit colleges set aside very little to education – only 17 percent on average. The rest goes to profit (20 percent, on average), to TV ads and call centers to recruit more students (also more than 20 percent, on average) and to CEO salaries of, on average, $8 to 9 million per year, but with some making up to $20 and $40 million dollars (compared to the non-profit college president’s average of less than $400,000).

Source: Wofford, Carrie. “This Veterans Day, Help a Vet Avoid a GI Bill Scam.” USNews. 11 Nov. 2013. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.

 

A Brief Overview of the Complaint System

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We’ve discussed why this new complaint system is such a great step in the right direction. Now, let’s take a brief look at its features and the types of issues it will address.

Features:

  • The system will collect feedback from Veterans, Servicemembers and their families who are experiencing problems with educational institutions receiving funding from federal military and veterans educational benefits programs, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the DOD Military Tuition Assistance Program
  • Provides two 1,000 character text fields (essentially enough for one-two paragraph submissions); one to collect feedback on the issue itself, and another to ask what the individual believes would be a fair resolution
  • A page for collecting the school’s information (which can be automatically filled using the built-in university/employer search feature)
  • A page to collect the complainant’s information (or an individual may leave anonymous feedback)

The following complaint types will be reviewed:

Recruiting/Marketing Practices Quality of Education
Accreditation Grade Policy
Financial Issues (e.g. Tuition/Fee charges) Release of transcripts
Student Loans Transfer of Credits
Post-Graduation Job Opportunities Refund Issues
Change in Degree Plan/Requirements Other

 

At initial glance, it looks like a simple, well-built app for submitting feedback. Visit the VA’s webpage for more information about the system and the process for responding to complaints.

Note: We experienced difficulty accessing the complaint system using Firefox as a web browser. Try Internet Explorer or Chrome instead!

What Combat2Career Hopes to See as a Result of the New Feedback Form

The feedback system is a great first step in bringing accountability to the higher education experience for military/Veterans. Now, we will all be looking to the Department of Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies to work expediently to collect, respond to, and resolve the problems our student Veterans face. Given the VA’s poor history of responding to backlogged disability claims, what concerns our team is the lack of a timeline for addressing the complaints submitted through this new tool. However, we hope that the VA and supporting agencies will develop procedures to quickly resolve complaints and that they will also share a summary of the data regarding incoming complaints so that the public may gain a better understanding of the present state of higher education institutions and their relationships with military/Veterans. Finally, we hope this new tool will prompt all educational programs to reflect on the programs and services they offer to support military/Veterans and take the opportunity to work with their students, alumni and the community-at-large to solicit feedback and suggestions for improvement. Ultimately, the best method to influence successful outcomes for students is by working proactively to ensure needs are met before problems arise and lead to complaints. Combat2Career encourages all educational institutions to be engaged in helping our military/Veterans make successful transitions to higher education, and stands ready to assist colleges in building supportive programs and services. Contact us to learn more about our services.