Standards for Conduct, For-profit Colleges and Veterans

America’s for-profit college organization has issued a new standards of conduct document with regard to company dealings with veterans.

Thanks to the newly expanded Post 9/11 GI Bill, some 600,000 veterans are now about to spend around $9 billion in federal money this year for college educations. But in the wake of extensive criticism about how for-profit colleges treat veterans, on Monday the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities released five “core principles and standards,” not just for institutional conduct, but also general standards for how the system should work.

APSCU’S Five Tenets of Veteran Education are,

1. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) should be required to provide counseling to all prospective students, including unbiased, comprehensive educational disclosures before the individual receives their education benefit.

2. Prior to student enrollment or the incurrence of any financial obligation, all institutions of higher education should disclose and make readily available through their catalogs, websites, and other resources that specifically pertain to all individuals eligible for military or veteran education benefits… information [including if any student veteran organizations have been created; if the institution offers reduced tuition rates to military students; a comprehensive description of academic and student support services available to military and veteran students, including job placement and career counseling services; the number of degrees and certificates conferred to military and veteran students in each of the three most recent academic years; the percent of military and veteran students enrolled in degree or certificate programs who complete within normal, 150 percent, or 200 percent of the normal time, etc.

3. The VA’s centralized complaint system should be developed with input from other veteran-education stakeholders to assist in ensuring that student complaints are addressed effectively and in a timely manner.

4. APSCU would lead an initiative to convene a series of panels—inviting other stakeholders to participate—to identify, collect, discuss, and document practices and programs that meet the unique needs of veteran students, foster persistence, and enable them to meet their academic and professional goals.

The other tenet of veteran education is a little odd, however:

5. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) currently has two studies underway examining a number of issues related to VA education programs, including what is known about student outcomes. However, before a clear picture has been provided about the academic outcomes of our veteran population, the recent Executive Order requires use of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB), “Know Before You Owe” as a resource for both military and veteran populations to understand the academic and student outcomes of an institution, all derived from the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

All sectors of higher education, and the military and veteran education communities, are in strong agreement that IPEDS does not adequately reflect the unique, nontraditional, military and veteran student population. Additionally, the “Know Before You Owe” form is not sufficiently nuanced to reflect the complexity of military and veteran educational assistance, nor does it reflect crucial student demographics, such as Pell-eligibility. In fact, the “Know Before You Owe” prototype sheet does not reference military or veteran benefits at all. Rather than providing the resources and information prospective students would need to make sound educational decisions, they will instead receive incomplete, misrepresentative data that will likely cause more confusion than assistance. Following the conclusion of the GAO study, APSCU extends an invitation to the Administration, Capitol Hill, and the higher education and veteran education communities to work collaboratively to fix the current data-collection system and then create a form that is representative, accurate, and serves as a true resource for all prospective students.

Duly noted, but that’s not really a principle of conduct so much as a criticism of existing regulations that for-profit institutions are now required to follow in order to take advantage of veterans benefits and the military’s tuition assistance program. This is the “Know Before You Owe” prototype sheet.

The for-profit colleges have a point in that the template sheet perhaps fails to capture all of the information that might be useful for veterans considering purchasing their services. But why wait for “the Administration, Capitol Hill, and the higher education and veteran education communities to work collaboratively” on this one? If your member institutions want to another form, why not just create one and offer it in addition to the “Know Before You Owe” sheet?

In contrast to most colleges, for-profit schools are businesses that offer vocational degrees and certificates designed for people looking specifically to advance their careers. There’s a reason regulations designed to apply to all colleges don’t really apply to for-profit colleges. That’s because for-profit colleges simply don’t operate like other colleges.

Because they’re separate, unconventional institutions a separate, additional financial disclosure might be appropriate for these colleges. So go ahead and create one, but only in addition to existing regulations. There’s nothing inappropriate in the existing “Know Before You Owe” sheet. Sure for-profit colleges are different schools, but the monthly bills look the same no matter where someone earned his degree.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer