This article was first published by Daniel Nichols as a Pulse post on LinkedIn. View the original post here.
VA does not have the legal authority to restore any GI Bill benefits you have used to attend ITT, even if you are not finished with the classes this term. You are, however, free to pursue your education goals at another school or training facility.[http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/news.asp]
This somber phrase issued in light of the closure of ITT campuses across the country is stark evidence of the lack of coordination between executive and legislative branches of government and the lack of planning. Government investigations into the practices of primarily for-profit educational institutions is not new … this has been a very long process – a decade long war of lobbyist power on both sides. It is the government vs. free enterprise on a massive scale. The result? Institutions are shut down … and veterans are shut out.
Yes, it sounds crazy – surely these closings are a surprise to everyone?! If that’s where you are, let me again quote the VA statement in response to the Corinthian Colleges closure in April 30, 2015, “Unfortunately, there are no provisions in the law that would allow VA to restore entitlement that has been used attending one of the schools.”
If you’re interested in a deeper dig into the background of this decade long war for education I’ve got a very long, very dry whitepaper you can find and download at betterforveterans.org.
The worst is yet to come
Unfortunately, I don’t believe this is the worst of it by any means for veterans – I believe the long-term impact on the value of diplomas earned by veterans at these institutions will directly affect the employability of veterans – especially in relation to professional licensure and credentialing.
Before I go there – I thought I’d share some of my own recent research findings on the topic – as I was hopeful that somewhere, someone in government was keeping student veterans in mind. Here’s what I found in FAQ format. [and my apologies that this is not my normal narrative style]
Why can’t the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) help?
I assume that most people don’t know how the approval process works for eligibility to receive VA educational benefits – in brief, VA benefit eligibility at the institutional level is determined by “State Approving Agencies.” As is the case with all general operating licenses for educational institutions, each state is responsible for ensuring that approved institutions and establishments meet and maintain acceptable standards so that eligible persons who attend may receive educational assistance from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA doesn’t approve schools – states do.
No legal authority exists for the VA to re-establish GI Bill eligibility. If you burned your GI Bill in an institution that has been shut down … you may be able to discharge outstanding student loans – but you will not get your GI Bill dollars back.
Is Congress taking any action at all?
The House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) is to my understanding working on a legislative fix that would allow those who have used the GI Bill already to potentially regain their lost eligibility – but the likelihood of such a bill passing both houses is slim to none. The Senate has a fix embedded in a huge omnibus bill – highlighted as the “Veterans First Act” – but again, it is not likely that any Bill in that form will go anywhere.
It’s pretty easy to identify bad actors in government data, isn’t it?
Government data on educational institutions is of poor quality. Only about 20% of schools (out of 8,800+) provide enough information to adequately judge veteran-specific outcomes. College Factual has a list of veteran schools numbering around 1400 – which roughly corresponds to the actual completed data set on veteran outcomes provided through iPEDS [http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/] – and as such is a good measure of how essentially meaningless this set of data is. And if you are hoping for a DoD or VA list to provide appropriate guidance – I’ve found that the only statistically significant predictor (.01) of veteran graduation, job placement and retention rates is the “completeness” of an institution’s participation in 12+ federal programs/initiatives. And it is a NEGATIVE correlation…. Meaning those institutions that are cleared or involved or participating in all government programs have worse outcomes.
Yes, but, don’t the college scorecard, the VA GI Bill and DoD MOU search tools identify schools veterans should avoid?
No … they do not. The VA has flagged warnings on school profiles within their GI Bill comparison tool – but a flag doesn’t mean “not eligible” and the “flags” are not very intuitive; “heightened financial cash monitoring” can mean a lot of things but nothing clear to a student. The DoD’s list of MOU approved institutions has unfortunately not been updated since 2014. The DoD MOU applies only to organizations participating in their tuition assistance program, which operates much like any corporate tuition benefit program. In either case – a flag doesn’t mean the school is not eligible. In fact, Corinthian Colleges were approved and still accredited as was ITT the day of their closure (as of Sep 7 – ITT Tech still appears on both instruments).
The vast majority of licenses and credentials require that an applicant or candidate hold a degree granted by an accredited institution.
Who do you think is next?
I’m not deeply embedded in the Washington scene – so I have no inside track … but I do have access to data, and data tells a story on it’s own. Given the history, given the stakes, given the blog and media wars and given the data I would suggest the following list as not only the next targets, but likely the order in which they will fall. I do want to be clear (as I’m sure I’ll receive plenty of hate mail and demands to take this list down) – I’m not saying this is my judgement about their education or outcomes in any way – I’m suggesting that this is a best guess on who follows Corinthian and ITT. [Also – do not blame me If this list shows up in Vegas]
- DEVRY UNIVERSITY ONLINE
- ARGOSY UNIVERSITY
- ASHFORD UNIVERSITY
- STRAYER UNIVERSITY
- BROWN MACKIE COLLEGE
- FULL SAIL UNIVERSITY
- ASHFORD UNIVERSITY
- LONE STAR COLLEGE SYSTEM
- CAPELLA UNIVERSITY
- VIRGINIA COLLEGE
- NATIONAL UNIVERSITY
- THE ART INSTITUTE OF PITTSBURGH
- UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND UNIVERSITY COLLEGE
- SOUTH UNIVERSITY
- CENTRAL TEXAS COLLEGE
- GRAND CANYON UNIVERSITY
- LIBERTY UNIVERSITY
- AMERICAN BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY UNIVERSITY
- AMERICAN PUBLIC UNIVERSITY SYSTEM
If you represent a school on this list – again – I’m not calling you out, I’m also probably not telling you anything of which you are not aware. Nevertheless – connect with me and I can walk you through the data.
You said it will get worse … how so?
The vast majority – I would say all, but I don’t like to be that definitive – the vast majority of licenses and credentials require that an applicant or candidate hold a degree granted by an accredited institution. Since training received by the Department of Defense is not accredited, transitioning service members are often on the hook to find an accredited civilian institution to provide them with the accredited training required for certification. This immediately places service members in a bind as they often use their GI Bill to re-train on skills they have already long mastered. Add to this mix the fact that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) is awaiting a final determination on its status as an institutional accrediting body.
ACICS provides primary accreditation for around 800 member institutions (ITT Tech was one – you can find others here: http://personify.acics.org/Default.aspx?TabId=204) and represent a current veteran student enrollment of 30,000+ veterans. If ACICS’s status as an accrediting agency is revoked – these institutions will be given 18 months to apply for and receive accreditation (or not) from another body. The question that remains is how other academic institutions, state licensing bodies and national and state credentialing organizations will react to degrees from these institutions. Revoking accreditation on this scale is far different and begs the question of whether the degrees are worth anything at all.
It is the government vs. free enterprise on a massive scale. The result? Institutions are shut down … and veterans are shut out.
If you read the FAQ’s dispensed by the Department of Education, everything has to do with continuing or completing a current degree program. The following helpful advice is offered, “It’s worth noting here that licensing for some jobs – but not all – may require that your program is currently accredited by a Department-recognized accreditor.” This appears along with the vague assurance that, “Nobody can take away the hard work you put in or the skills you gained. Your school was accredited when you earned your degree, and you’ll never have to return your certificate or diploma.” [http://blog.ed.gov/2016/06/college-accreditation-changes-mean-students/] Yes, but is it worth anything? – that is the real question, and it is a question that will only be decided by schools considering transfer credits, by licensing and credentialing bodies and by employers.
The de-certification of a large accrediting body has the potential to impact the career prospects of not tens of thousands but hundreds of thousands of veterans.
Can anything be done?
A key and oft-stated military expression is: “Never offer a problem without a solution.” I can’t say that I have great answers to the problems I’ve briefly outlined above – real solutions are going to require not only legislative intervention but frankly the understanding and sacrifice of existing colleges, credentialing institutions and employers. From my perspective, this is a problem bigger than any one person or organization – to that end we’ve created a movement to bring together willing hands and minds and leadership – you can learn more at: www.betterforveterans.org.
What I can offer is some guidance from my experience in crisis management and combat operations. As other crisis management professionals can attest, the primary need in crisis response is simple, clear, communication … followed by simple clear direction to specific resources identified within a simple, clear recovery process. What veterans face right now is a mess of vitriolic media followed by accusations, followed by muddled and non-specific directives.
Are there schools ready to stand to assist? – to take transfer credits and provide a safe landing for current students? Are there schools that will welcome prior graduates – to assess their skills and offer rapid tracks to valid degrees? Are states willing to step into the gap … is there a veteran service organization that will take the lead in assuring that real legislation is drafted and passed?
Call to action
If you represent an institution that is willing and able to help – please let me know – I would love to help identify you as a ready resource not only for current veterans affected by the ITT Tech crisis … but for the looming disaster to follow.
Again! My apologies for what seems to be a trend toward “gloom and doom” posts, hopefully we’ll see a turn back to the positive – it’s just impossible to see this coming and do nothing.
…And perhaps I’ve gotten it wrong … my gut tells me I haven’t but in any case your comments are welcome.