For-Profit Colleges, Vulnerable G.I.'s by Hollister K. Petraeus on September 21, 2011.
One instance of a military service member being abused by an unscrupulous for-profit college is one instance too many. Having served our country, service members deserve our unqualified support. But how does it serve the interests of these individuals to make claims in the nation's leading newspaper, not substantiated, that cast a pall over the educations of roughly 150,000 service members and veterans now attending private sector colleges and universities? That is exactly the tactic used in a recent op-ed by Holly Petraeus in the New York Times (For Profit Colleges, Vulnerable G.I.'s, September 22, 2011).
Much is made of the fact that GI Bill dollars are not included in the government's 90-10 calculation, a regulation that requires career colleges eligible to participate in Title IV student aid programs receive no more than 90 percent of their funding from Title IV sources. This distinction leads Petraeus to conclude that for-profit colleges have an incentive "to see service members as nothing more than dollar signs in uniform." On reputation and word of mouth alone, schools over-marketing and under-serving military students would quickly fail. Yet the author creates the impression that our schools act in a venal way as a matter of course, rather than as a matter of a few isolated exceptions (such as is the case at every level of higher education).
As a society, we've moved beyond the point where we hold the group accountable for the actions of an individual member. Yet Petraeus castigates our sector with a very broad brush, basing her attack on opinions, not data.
For instance, in charging that for-profits "generally" have low graduation rates and a poor record of student placement, Petraeus ignores the fact that two-year career colleges out-perform community colleges in terms of graduation rates three to one or that nationally accredited career colleges place 70 percent of their graduates. While it is true that career colleges do have higher-than-average student default rates, it is equally true that career colleges serve a higher-than-average percentage of at-risk students-single moms, the less affluent, older workers, and, yes, military service members and veterans. Petraeus also cites the difficulty that career college students have transferring credits between institutions but fails to mention the difficulty that any student has in transferring credits, regardless of the school he or she attends. She talks about "a number" of for-profit colleges with questionable credentials. But what number? If the Department of Education’s own program reviews are the basis for drawing any conclusions, that number is very small.
It's time to start beating our rhetorical swords into plowshares, fostering the type of dialogue that puts our military students first, eliminating abuses where they exist, but not calling into question the hard work and accomplishments of those who have attended America's career colleges.
Jim Hutton, PhD
Communications Committee Chairman
Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities