Written By: Shannon P. Meehan, IVMF Communications Specialist
Recent government figures show an overall 2.9 percent decline in enrollment at for-profit institutions of higher education. The decline follows an announcement by Apollo Group Inc., parent company of the University of Phoenix, that it will be closing almost half of its physical locations. An enrollment that once peaked at 475,000 students in 2010 is currently down to 328,000 students.1 Kaplan, another for-profit college popular among military veterans, is also on the decline, closing nine campuses with enrollment down roughly 15 percent.1
While there are many reasons for the decline in enrollment at for-profit universities, including more aggressive marketing by traditional colleges, there is also growing national concern around these institutions in relation to their recruitment and treatment of military veterans receiving G.I. Bill benefits.
This public concern has caught the government’s eye, and the current administration is enforcing rules preventing for-profit colleges from paying recruiters based on the number of students they enroll. Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson recently announced an investigation into for-profits’ questionable business practices, such as receiving millions of dollars in G.I. Bill benefits while in turn, veterans are dropping out of for-profit institutions at a drastically high rate.
A recent government report shows that over 54 percent of students enrolled at for-profit institutions drop out before acquiring a bachelor’s degree, with 63 percent leaving without ever obtaining their associate’s degree. A number of these for-profit institutions have been accused of focusing their recruitment tactics specifically on veterans with aggressive and often misleading marketing, and then providing little academic, administrative or counseling support to the student vet.
With the often competing demands of family, school and work – not to mention socialization changes – veterans are non-traditional students and face unique challenges when returning to school. They are more likely than their non-veteran peers to be married, have children and also to hold down a job while going to school. They often require some guidance to navigate the unfamiliar terrain of college life.
Given the common practices of many for-profits, these unique needs are clearly being ignored. Instead, once tuition is paid, student veterans are being left guideless and without viable resources. Such practices, in the past, have led to high enrollment numbers yet poor graduation rates for student veterans.
Adversely, providing guidance and support are crucial elements of non-profit, brick and mortar colleges and universities. Unfortunately, the flexibility of online courses and programs of study, qualities often most appealing to veterans, is not often found within brick and mortar institutions. Though most traditional colleges and universities are adjusting to accommodate student vets, improvements still remain, to accommodate different schedules and responsibilities that student veterans, and other non-traditional students, hold.
For these reasons, the flexibility inherent in online programs is actually well-suited to the situation of many veterans. Unfortunately, deceiving practices and poor graduation rates have squandered the attractiveness and effectiveness of online, for-profit colleges in providing veterans with quality education in a flexible environment well-suited to their post-service life course.
It’s important to note that not all for-profit schools practice dishonest and unscrupulous marketing techniques. Many offer quality, flexible, accredited education and training programs that have helped millions of service members and veterans since the post- World War II GI Bulge. Still, veterans remain a profitable target for these institutions, even though they are repeatedly falling short of veterans’ educational goals. Given the convenience and potential for student veteran success in an online learning environment, it would be a real tragedy to take advantage of these men and women who have already sacrificed so much.