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GUEST COLUMN

Despite knocks, U. of Phoenix rising to serve GIs

By GARLAND WILLIAMS | Published: May 27, 2011

Last week, Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to denounce proprietary universities and their commitments to servicemembers and their families.

Harkin, for example, said that proprietary schools “target” American military veterans, “enticing them to enroll.” He and other legislators, who base their criticisms on a Government Accountability Office report that has since been widely discredited, believe new regulations are the answer; that benefits such as the post-9/11 GI Bill should be leveraged to direct military students away from the schools of their choice — those schools that can help them gain a higher education in ways that suit their lives.

As a veteran myself, I found the senators’ approaches unhelpful.

I am personally responsible for tens of thousands of military students, veterans and spouses who attend University of Phoenix, along with the nearly 1,000 advisers and counselors who serve them. I can attest to the ways that proprietary colleges such as Phoenix benefit veterans and offer them resources and tailored programs they will simply not get anywhere else — programs that, if Harkin and Durbin had their way, would be denied to many.

Every day, more Americans of all backgrounds seek out a path to a college degree. They need access to higher education in order to remain competitive or make career changes amid a sluggish economy. And currently, more than 70 percent of America’s students — including America’s servicemembers — are classified as “nontraditional” by the U.S. Department of Education, meaning that a conventional four-year residential college experience doesn’t meet their needs. For these students, particularly those in the armed forces, many proprietary institutions such as University of Phoenix provide a more accessible path toward a high-quality college degree.

As an accredited institution of higher learning, University of Phoenix offers members of the U.S. military and veterans an understanding support team of advisers with military backgrounds and an online learning platform that fits the distinct needs of servicemembers. I take strong exception to Harkin’s comment that proprietary schools show “little or no interest in providing students the academic help” they need, particularly in the case of our military students.

At University of Phoenix, the Military Division provides special resources for students in the armed forces through its liaison team, a dedicated department that assists military students by working closely with education officers at hundreds of military installations. I proudly lead that division and witness daily the many ways we help our men and women in uniform earn a college degree. Even those serving downrange are using their time in combat to make steady progress toward their educational goals.

Ignored by the senators, the University of Phoenix has been recognized for its service to veterans, and has been named a military-friendly school and employer for the past three consecutive years. GI Jobs ranked University of Phoenix in the top 15 percent of all colleges, universities and trade schools nationwide that serve military students. Military Advanced Education, a leading publication in the military leadership community, has recognized the university as a military-friendly school. Civilian Jobs, an organization that helps military-experienced job seekers identify good employers, named University of Phoenix a “Most Valuable Employer.”

But this is not an advertisement for University of Phoenix. The reality is that our men and women in uniform — including our wounded warriors — deserve all the opportunities University of Phoenix and similar institutions can offer them, and they certainly deserve the right to choose their own educational paths upon returning home. It is my hope that our representatives in Washington will allow them that freedom.

Col. Garland Williams (retired) is associate regional vice president of University of Phoenix’s Military Division.