When I first walked onto a community college campus not even a year after my last foot patrol in Iraq, I made several assumptions about the school. I assumed there would be adequate support when it came to filing benefits paperwork. I assumed the quality of my education would be high, and that I could transfer my credits to any university without any issues.

I was lucky with my assumptions. My credits transferred to a private university, and while the Veteran education reps at the school weren’t always on point, they made an effort.

Unfortunately, some schools take advantage of those assumptions by funding or participating in rankings that suggest they are military or Veteran friendly, often with questionable criteria and unclear standards.

From the Associated Press:

Some schools touting their spots on proliferating lists of “military friendly” colleges found in magazine guides and websites have few of the attributes educators commonly associate with the claim, such as accepting military credits or having a veterans organization on campus. Many are for-profit schools with low graduation rates.

In the first two years of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, $4.4 billion dollars flowed from VA to universities to pay for Veterans education. When that much money is at stake, schools often have a vested interest to attract as many Veterans to their programs as possible.

But some say a rise in recruitment efforts should be coupled with a boost in Veterans resources and programs.

“Schools are businesses,” said Brian Hawthorne, who currently serves on the board of directors at Student Veterans of America. “If they want their business model to include Veterans, they must include services that retain those students.”

It’s hard to argue that bringing in Veterans isn’t a good thing for schools—even with the associated challenges. Diversifying a campus with Veterans means fellow students are exposed to a small segment of society that can feel out of touch with the civilian population.

Meg Krause, the associate director of Veterans Programs at the American Council on Education, says the resources and peer support found on campus can have tremendous impact on how Veterans adjust to life after the military.

“When you look at higher education, you can see an institution that’s perfectly suited to help Veterans transition to civilian life,” she said.

To mischaracterize the amount and quality of Veteran resources on campus in order to appear “military friendly,” then, is to undermine the crucial development period of reintegration. And as we reported yesterday, some schools use administrative staff to control student Vets groups in a bid to leverage the military friendly identity.

So what can you do to protect yourself and ensure your school can adequately support Veterans? Above all else, only trust education benefits resources from VA itself. Our GI Bill homepage, along with the GI Bill Facebook page, offers accurate news and information. There are all kinds of websites that benefit financially from offering questionable information without accountability.

The fact is this: No online tool or website can give you all of the information you need concerning your personalized benefits. The Defense Department’s housing calculator is a good place to start to get an idea for how much you can expect in housing (the 100 percent rate is determined using the school’s ZIP code, at the 2011 rate as an E-5 with dependents). But your Veterans education rep at your school is the only one who can give you a complete picture. There are too many variables and circumstances that may affect your benefits. It’s best to work it out, offline, with a professional. And if you haven’t decided on a school yet, use our resource page to make the best education decision possible.

For many schools and companies, a lot of money is at stake when it comes to securing your hard earned benefits. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality of the situation. To make the best possible decision, you need to arm yourself with quality information. We’ll continue to monitor websites that break faith with the trust of Veterans so you can focus on what’s important: Finishing a degree and making your own way after the service.

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Published on Apr. 6, 2012

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6 Comments

  1. Amy April 19, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    Technically it’s not fraud. It’s just unethical when vets are signed up for on-line and private schools that have inflated tuition and low graduation rates. I am glad to see lists that explain the low graduation rates.

  2. Robert paladino April 6, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    I worked for an online university as a military recruiter. They push you ever week to enroll 2-4 students. I eventually quit because it was an alright deal for active duty TA paid for it all and they could not go to a ground campus. For veterans it was terrible, they would pay twice as much to go to a online school than to go to a local college. Even if the veteran didn’t enroll into my school they would tell me that another school promised them a job in this field or had special connections.
    These for profit schools just make a dash for every veteran and say they care about them. They really just see dollar signs. We were told to use certain things to get them to enroll such as, you know how much gas cost are you going to want to drive to a campus everday? your goal is to get your degree as quickly as possible so you can enroll in this program (that had nothing to do with what they wanted to do, we just put them there to give them more credits and make an easier sell) and get your degree in a year and a half.
    Iam a Iraq war veteran and used my GI bill to go to a state school and I quit because I couldnt screw my brothers. But just know that some of the most celebrated employees at these schools enroll vets like its nothing and few stay past a few classes.

  3. MSgtK April 6, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    While attending numerous colleges during the last 27 years (and currently a student) I recommend to all of my military friends to get familiar themselves with what the GI Bill www sites says. Don’t be lazy and depend on someone else to care about having the right answers. So called VA liasions do NOT have to have any qualifications to be the college representative. In fact, my college just hired someone off the street who knows nothing but is trying to learn. Know your facts and call the 1800 GI Bill number to verify anything you don’t personally know for fact. You can explain your situation and they can tell you how much money will be given to the institution and how much will be given to you each month.

  4. Michael A. Trudeau April 6, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Im currently the president of the Studeant Veteran Organization at my school. Does the VA give out a “military Friendly” designation and publish any ‘best practices’ for universities to follow to get the designation. I have been fighting an up hill battle to get my school to change policies to better accommodate vets and some thing like this would be a great asset for vets and schools.

    • John Mikelson April 9, 2012 at 11:16 am

      The VA does not but Student Veterans of America (www.studentveterans.org) and the ACE do

  5. Margaret Baechtold April 6, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    I really appreciate the referral back to professionals on campus who can explain the minute details of how a particular benefit works for that individual student in their unique situation. One of the great things about the GI Bill is how tailored it is to a student’s unique circumstances — time in service, school location, other scholarships, program charges, etc. But one of the really hard things about the GI Bill is how tailored it is to a student’s unique circumstances…..

    Professional staff members at most colleges and universities work very hard to be able to accurately counsel students on how their benefits will work locally. Official sources of information come directly from the VA’s website and SCO Handbook — as well as from the governing laws themselves. It continues to be a challenge for colleges and the VA to explain the details of the Post 9/11 GI Bill without regulatory guidance implementing the changes signed into law well over a year ago. But school officials and the VA together remain the best resources for students trying to make good decisions about their education.

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