By Gerard Scimeca and Kenny Golden
During a recent U.S. Senate hearing, Education Secretary Betsy Devos testified, “The vast majority of students today do not pursue a traditional four-year college degree. ... We must urgently rethink our approach to higher education.”
Devos is right; students today are a diverse group and are taking varied and divergent paths in higher education to prepare for their future. This especially includes our nation’s veterans.
Every year thousands of veterans return home with the education equivalent of a “golden ticket,” GI Bill tuition assistance they can put toward a degree, and hopefully a secure and successful career.
But veterans are facing a new battle at home as a handful of Democratic lawmakers are waging a political campaign against many of the for-profit institutions that have ably provided degrees and job placement to tens of thousands of veterans.
Leading the charge in the U.S. House of Representatives is Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, D-3rd, who now serves as the chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor.
Scott and his Democratic colleagues want to change the rules in the Higher Education Act to effectively run for-profit colleges out of business. Unlike public universities or community colleges, for-profits have the added burden of requiring at least 10% of their matriculating students to finance their education outside of Title IV, which includes general government assistance such as Pell Grants and government-backed loans.
Currently that 10% can come from the GI Bill, but if that is taken away many schools will close their doors since very few students can pay for their education without some form of guaranteed assistance. This will be a disaster for veterans, working adults and many low-income students who desire to choose a path outside of the traditional four-year college degree.
While Scott and other Democrats attack all for-profit schools as “predatory,” even they must be forced to recognize the success of a school in Scott’s own district — ECPI University. ECPI enrolls nearly 12,000 students and has top-rated programs in technology and excels in job placement. Under the Democratic plan, it is highly likely that ECPI would have to drastically raise tuition or close its doors, as the former will surely lead to the latter.
Monroe College in the Bronx, which places 100% of its graduating nurses in jobs — almost all of them minority women — would be another casualty. Other highly successful, career-oriented institutions also would be put on the endangered college list. Keiser University has earned a NICHE rating as the No. 3 online school in the country and operates 20 campuses in Florida with nursing, culinary arts and criminal justice programs all highly rated. Full Sail University — also in Florida — focuses on the arts and entertainment industry, offering degrees in cinematography, animation, video graphics and special effects. Grand Canyon University in Arizona has more than 20,000 students attending classes on campus and another 75,000 students enrolled online.
Many of these colleges have operated for decades, serving a diverse population and providing degree opportunities for veterans to begin a new career.
If they were all predatory and scamming students as their political opponents claim, they would have disappeared long ago.
What is further troubling is that in their zest to single out for-profit schools, Scott and other Democrats never mention the dozens upon dozens of community colleges and public universities with atrocious graduation rates, many well below 20%. These include the University of Maine at Augusta (12%), the College of Southern Nevada (9%), and Oklahoma State University at Oklahoma City (10.6%).
Many public community colleges fare no better. Miami Dade College’s 30.1% graduation rate has actually been touted as a success by the bureaucrats who support Scott’s agenda. Touting a record whereby three in 10 students receive a degree as a “success” shows just how biased is the fervor against non-traditional institutions.
What we know is that there are problems in education across the board. It is simply wrong and irresponsible to paint all for for-profit colleges with the same brush.
The key to success for all students, veterans included, is competition and education choice that lets schools compete for students and innovate in the ways they serve their needs. This should be up to students, not politicians and bureaucrats.
Problems in education should be addressed, but done so evenhandedly, and not in a way that unfairly restricts how GI Bill tuition assistance can be utilized. With thousands of veterans each year returning home to Hampton Roads to pursue a degree and new path to opportunity, Scott and his colleagues should not be standing in their way.