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Senate officials acknowledge error that inflated GI Bill money to for-profit schools

WASHINGTON — Senate officials admitted they erred in publicly released calculations that for-profit colleges doubled or tripled their GI Bill funding intake last year, saying the actual increases were much more modest.

In a statement, officials from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions acknowledged that data from a two-year span was presented as a single-year increase, mistakenly showing education benefit totals that were much higher than the actual figures.

Those numbers were widely reported after a September press conference — including in Stars and Stripes — and used by lawmakers on the committee to argue that for-profit colleges were targeting veterans and their GI Bill benefits as a lucrative revenue stream, potentially without delivering actual education results.

In the statement, the committee researchers said the mistakes did not change their fundamental concerns that for-profit schools are receiving an uncomfortably large share of veterans’ education benefits.

But the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities issued a stinging rebuke in response to the error, calling it “a reckless rush to judgment” by the committee.

“We are stunned that such damaging statements, harming thousands of students and the reputations of several schools, could be made in the first place,” the group said in a statement.

“The committee’s majority members unleashed an unwarranted tidal wave of negative publicity for our schools. … We need fewer press conferences and more collaboration on higher education reform putting the interests of all students first.”

Initially, the committee report said eight of the top 10 schools receiving GI Bill benefits in the 2010-2011 school year were for-profit colleges, and they amassed more than $1 billion in GI Bill funds. That was up from just $400 million the previous year.

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In the correction, the committee acknowledged those eight schools only took in about $630 million in GI Bill funds last year.

University of Phoenix, the No. 1 recipient of GI Bill dollars in the 2010-2011 school year, saw its numbers jump from $77 million in 2009-2010 to $133 million the following year, not the $210 million previously announced.

Committee officials said that other data released on the issue, including graduation rate statistics on the schools, was accurate.

shanel@stripes.osd.mil

Twitter: @LeoShane

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