WASHINGTON — A coalition of for-profit colleges unveiled new guidelines for military-friendly schools on Tuesday, a move that officials hope will improve their interactions with veterans and their reputation among critics of the industry.
The 17-page document, designed to identify “the very best post-secondary education practices and support services that meet the specific needs of military and veteran students,” outlines ways for schools to be more open about school expenses, the tutorial and emotional support services they can provide, and ways to recruit veterans in a fair and honest manner.
Steve Gunderson, president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, said the report isn’t meant to be a regulatory guideline but instead an in-depth discussion of ways for-profit schools can respond to student veterans.
“If we’re serious about putting students first, we need to do that in our practices and procedures,” he said. “We have a disproportionate number of veterans as students … so we need to step up and meet their needs.”
The report calls for colleges to provide full accreditation information to all potential students, a full walkthrough of what GI Bill benefits will and won’t cover, and an explanation of “responsible borrowing” to deal with student loan debts.
It also recommends colleges with large veteran populations appoint a senior-level administrator to lead military and veteran services, and set up veterans centers to provide additional assistance to those students.
The document, put together by a task force including for-profit college officials and veterans advocates, comes after the industry has come under heavy scrutiny from lawmakers and outside critics who charge that the non-traditional schools have targeted veterans for their GI Bill education benefits and offered questionable degrees in return.
Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee have attacked the for-profit schools’ lower graduation rates and aggressive recruiting practices as a waste of taxpayer money and a danger to veterans’ careers.
The report offers detailed recruiting reforms -- “establish and enforces internal call limits on unsolicited recruiting calls,” for example -- but deflects the four-year graduation numbers as unreliable markers for an industry that caters to older and online students.
Gunderson said his group is focused on finding more meaningful metrics on student success, including student satisfaction, post-graduation employment and post-graduation income. But many of those recommendations will be included in future APSCU “best practices” reports.
Report authors do advise schools to participate in the National Student Clearinghouse in an effort to better track how student veterans perform at their schools.
Michael Dakduk, president of Student Veterans of America and an advisor to the task force, said veteran graduation rate data has been problematic for for-profit and public schools, and his group is working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to better track those numbers.
He called the new report a significant step forward for the for-profit industry, saying it shows a clear effort to reach out to veterans attending their classes.
“They’ve reached out to key leaders in the education and veterans community here and are trying to take the next step forward,” he said. “That’s important. That’s a great step forward.”
Gunderson said he expects his member schools to be judged “not by what we say we’ll do, but by our conduct.” He said many of the new guidelines will require some cultural changes for the schools in how they approach and cater to veterans, and represent more than a rubber stamp on existing programs.
“Veterans talk to other veterans, and we’re willing to stand that test,” he said.