A Republican sponsored bill winding its way through Congress is drawing heat from veterans groups who say it is a giveaway to for-profit predatory schools that take advantage of veterans, and scam taxpayers out of billions in federal funds
The "Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform" known as the Prosper Act -- H.R.4508 -- is a 542 page reauthorization of the Higher Education Act which legislates everything from student financial aid to fraternities and sororities on campus.
Organizations like the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Student Veterans of America, Veterans Education Success and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, as well as groups made up of State Colleges, Financial Aid Administrators and consumer groups oppose several of the provisions in the bill.
"It's a great bill for bad schools," Will Hubbard, vice president of government affairs at Student Veterans of America, said on Twitter.
Rolling Back Obama-Era Protections
One thing that veterans groups are up in arms about is language in the bill that eliminates regulations put in place by the previous administration that required colleges to prove graduates were actually being prepared for the workplace. The so-called "gainful employment rule" stops federal aid to schools that consistently graduate students who are unprepared to enter the workforce, or have no job skills and end up with large student debt and meager income.
This law was put into place after some high profile schools were found to be graduating students with massive student loans who couldn't find jobs.
Some schools counted numerous graduates as working "in their field" when they were not. For example, one graduate who majored in healthcare administration worked as a server at a restaurant, while another who majored in business administration working as a car salesman.
The Trump administration, in keeping with its campaign promise to cut regulations, launched an overhaul of that rule in response to complaints from for-profit colleges. The PROSPER Act, however, eliminates the rule outright and bars the government from issuing new regulations related to measuring the effectiveness of any school's vocational or degree programs.
Giving More Federal Money to Schools
Another sticking point in the new bill is the so-called 90-10 rule. This is a rather complicated regulation that basically says colleges cannot get more than 90 percent of their revenue from federal student aid. But since GI Bill money doesn't count as federal financial aid under this rule, theoretically a college could get more than 90 percent of all its money from the federal government. Think about that for a second - a college getting more than 90 percent of its money from tax dollars. Pretty sweet deal.
I know from researching colleges that most of them have a crazy sticker price, but they say things like "75 percent of our students qualify for financial aid." That means many colleges artificially inflate their costs, and take a big chunk of taxpayer dollars for each student, ending up charging most students far less than the sticker price.
That means the 90-10 rule makes veterans especially sought after as prospective students. They can be charged the full price and don't count against the 90 percent cap on federal aid. Some private schools have taken in hundreds of millions of dollars in GI Bill money in recent years.
Veterans' groups have been pushing Congress for years to eliminate the loophole and count GI Bill money as federal money. They say schools are more competitive and accountable if they don't rely on tax dollars for so much of their operating budget, and they don't target veterans as sources of easy money that can be used to skew the numbers.
But this bill goes in the opposite direction, eliminating the 90-10 regulation for good.
The Recruiter Never Lied, Right?
Some recruiters apparently do. Related to this is another provision of the law, eliminating the ban on bonuses to college recruiters.
Current federal law bars colleges from paying bonuses to recruiters based on the number of students they can enroll.
In the past, some for-profit schools have come under fire for hiring bikini-clad female recruiters to attend on-base events targeting military members, telling people with multiple felony convictions that they "are a perfect fit for a law-enforcement career," or inflating graduation rates, and job placement numbers to name just a few actions.
This bill wipes out the previous ban on schools paying recruiters a bonus for how many new students they can get to enroll. Veterans groups say that opens the door for more fraud, waste and abuse of the system.
Some of us believed everything the military recruiter told us, some of us knew better -- and apparently this new law assumes all veterans know not to believe everything a recruiter, be it a military or college recruiter, tells them.
Do Veterans Really Need All of That Protection?
Are private schools really that bad -- are veterans really that gullible? Apparently Congress thought so when it passed the Forever GI Bill.
That law had a provision in it that allowed veterans who were affected by private schools that shut down, either by going out of business or having their accreditation withdrawn, to get their GI Bill reinstated.
Apparently this was a big enough problem to make it into law, and enough veterans were taken by shady deals in the past.
Hopefully today's veterans are smarter because if veteran groups are correct, if this bill makes it into law, many bad schools will be back to their old tricks of making a quick buck by taking advantage of veterans.