Buyer beware, the New York Times advises in an editorial targeting GI bill recipients attending private sector colleges and universities (PSCUs). Speaking of old adages, what about "Don’t believe everything you read in the newspaper?" Such as the editorial's presumption that our schools do not provide a quality education. That bias could be dispelled by visiting a few PSCUs and talking to military service and veteran students, not just parroting the partisan Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee findings. A few cases in point:
- PSCUs do not "snap up" a disproportionate share of GI bill dollars. Private institutions, whether non-profit or for-profit, cost students more than do public institutions, which enjoy generous taxpayer subsidies. Once the cost of the education is taken into consideration together with the enrollment there is virtually no difference between the two types of private institutions in terms of the ratio of students to benefits, although not surprisingly that ratio is higher than for public institutions.
- While charged with "dismal graduation rates and dubious curriculums," the reality is that “apples to apples” comparisons of at-risk student populations at PSCUs and other types of institutions show that our schools actually do better at graduating students. Or to come at the problem from a different perspective, just look at the graduation rate of community colleges, America's public policy solution for educating non-traditional students: 21 percent. Can we spell unsatisfactory? Meanwhile, two-year PSCU programs graduate 60 percent of students and most of our students find in field employment—the whole point of going to school in the first place. Dubious indeed.
- Recycling the Senate HELP Committee charges, the Times notes that eight large PSCUs saw over 409,000 degree seeking students drop out within a year of enrolling. With approximately 1.25 million enrollments combined, this constitutes a rate of 39 percent. While every true drop out is lamentable, many students “drop” and return for various reasons, including economic hardship, job and schedule changes, family responsibilities and other "life happens" situations. Also, it’s worth noting the public school dropout rate is 44 percent. Context is all.
- Many critics, including Holly Petraeus, are throwing the 90-10 regulation around as the rationale for PSCUs seeking to serve GI Bill eligible students. The accusation is wrong. Most PSCUs receive far less than 90 percent of their revenue from Title IV sources and are not in danger of exceeding the statutory limit. In fact, two-thirds are at 79 percent or lower. Military serving students are naturally attracted to PSCU education because it is flexible, career-focused and populated largely with older, more “cut to the chase” students. Moreover, while 90-10 relates to federal student loans and grants, the GI Bill is an earned benefit. Telling a military serving or veteran student to attend one type of school versus another would be like telling that person to shop at Kroger not Safeway. Can soldiers and sailors serve their country but not select their college?
Interim President and CEO
Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities