Senate spars on for-profit colleges accused of injuring troops, veterans

In a Senate floor speech this week, U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) defended for-profit colleges accused of injurious practices affecting military service members, veterans, and student loan recipients.

In an Oct. 29, 2015 Huffington Post article, McCain is quoted as accusing U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) as having, “orchestrated” a “shameful … vendetta against for-profit universities.”  (“McCain lashes out at Durbin, defends veteran-abusing for-profit colleges,” David Halperin reporting)

According to the article:

“In fact, it is McCain, by using his power as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee to pressure the Department of Defense to back off a legitimate investigation of the University of Phoenix, who is doing a disservice to service members and veterans, who deserve to be protected against deceptive recruiting, poor quality programs, and other predatory practices.”

The clash comes following a Pentagon crack-down on certain for-profit colleges that have taken financial advantage of military service members and recipients of G.I. bill benefits and student loans.  Some have been found to fraudulently mislead prospective students, with non-accredited programs that leave graduates unable to secure a job in their field of study, courses and credits that don’t transfer and leave students unable to switch to a different school, and exorbitant tuition and fees that leave students saddled with untenable debt burdens.

For military service members and veterans, they also expend valuable months of their substantial but limited G.I. bill educational benefits.  The number of months of available benefits is reduced for each month of schooling paid for by the G.I. Bill.  In addition to the accreditation and lack of transferability issues, G.I. bill recipients have also irretrievably lost their G.I. Bill benefits.

In one recent case, for-profit Corinthian Colleges went bankrupt, leaving students without degrees or transferrable credits, saddled with massive debt and lost G.I. bill benefits, unable to find employment in their field of study and unable to transfer to another school.

Meanwhile, nearly all of these schools’ revenue comes from federal tuition programs like the federal G.I. Bill and federally guaranteed student loans, leaving taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars and making the issue a growing national public policy concern.

Earlier this week, a coalition of 33 veteran-related and other organizations sent a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, praising the Pentagon’s efforts to clamp down on the University of Phoenix, one of the for-profit colleges in question,
to protect service members from deceptive recruiting, including surreptitious recruiting on military installations.”  The coalition included Veterans for Common Sense (VCS), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Student Veterans of America (SVA), and 29 others.

According to the Huffington Post article, McCain in his Senate floor speech even went so far as to accuse Durbin of having a, “well-known record of not supporting the men and women who are serving in the military.”

Sen. Durbin has been perennially instrumental in ensuring continued and increased funding for Gulf War Illness treatment research — a key area of VCS interest — including in joint House-Senate conference committees on appropriations bills for the U.S. Department of Defense.  That funding, part of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP), would have been banned by an amendment (#1463) authored and introduced earlier this year by Sen. McCain targeting nearly the entire CDMRP portfolio.  VCS and dozens of health advocacy organizations banded together to oppose and defeat the McCain amendment.  And, while Durbin has been a perennial cosigner to Senate Dear Colleague letters leading to funding the Gulf War Illness treatment research program, McCain has never done so.

Durbin also introduced a Servicemember Student Loan Affordability amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would expand the reach of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to limit the interest rate on military service members’  student loans during their military service despite the fact that the student loans were incurred prior to their military service.  VCS remains in firm support of this pro-military measure.

Read the full Huffington Post article here:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/davidhalperin/mccain-lashes-out-at-durb_b_8421060.html

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