A leading student veterans group is suspending chapters at 40 for-profit colleges, saying it's concerned they've been set up by the colleges as shell organizations to help them appeal to veteran students who carry lucrative government tuition benefits.
The schools may be creating what are essentially fake SVA chapters to help them qualify for lists of "military friendly" or "veterans friendly" colleges that are proliferating in guidebooks and online, Student Veterans of America executive director Michael Dakduk said Thursday. On some lists, the existence of an SVA chapter at a school figures into the formula.
The organization, which has 417 campus chapters, said it would not name the for-profit schools while it investigated further. But Dakduk said that during recent membership renewals, SVA discovered numerous chapters listing as contacts people SVA later identified as school employees, not student veterans, and that chapter websites simply redirected anyone interested to the colleges' pages.
He said SVA has occasionally encountered the issue before, including at not-for-profit universities, but he said the recent discovery amounted to a much more widespread pattern.
One of SVA's main activities is facilitating peer-to-peer guidance for veterans. Dakduk said the credibility of that guidance could be threatened if the supposed veterans groups on campus aren't run by veterans.
"If a student veteran went to our (online) chapter map and wanted to connect with a fellow student veteran at `X' university, they wouldn't be connecting with a peer, they would be connecting with an administrator or a recruiter," Dakduk said.
The Associated Press reported last week on concerns about the credibility of "military friendly" and "veterans friendly" college rankings and the role they play in the aggressive recruiting battle among colleges _ both traditional and for-profit _ for veterans. An estimated $9 billion in taxpayer dollars will be spent this year on veterans' education under the new Post 9/11 G.I. Bill.
The concern is "for-profits schools can use our brand to make it seem like they're a `military friendly' or `veteran friendly' school," Dakduk said. "If a for-profit school has a hollow chapter or no chapter at all, if they get the SVA brand behind them ... (then) they can advertise or promote their company in a way that seems like it is approved by fellow student veterans."
For-profit colleges have been especially aggressive recruiting veterans, not only for the federal education benefits they carry but also because they don't count toward a limit called the federal 90-10 rule. That rule requires colleges to receive at least 10 percent of their revenue from sources other than the federal government, but students enrolled under the new G.I. Bill don't count toward the limit.
Overall, for-profit colleges enroll about 9 percent of U.S. undergraduates. But in the first two years after the new G.I. Bill was passed in 2008, for-profit schools enrolled 25 percent of veterans using the benefits and collected 37 percent of the payments to colleges.
"This is the first we've heard of this problem or concern," the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, which represents the for-profit college sector, said in a statement issued on behalf of president and CEO Steve Gunderson. He said the sector takes seriously its commitment to serving veterans and that once the schools involved are identified it would work with them and with SVA to resolve any problems.
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