May 25, 2016

Veterans Groups Oppose Manchin Amendment Giving For-Profit Colleges Unfettered Access to Military Bases


Just as America’s veterans organization are coming together to demand better government protection against deceptive and abusive practices by for-profit colleges, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) seems to want to move in the opposite direction, pushing an amendment that would require the Pentagon to allow any college approved for military tuition benefits to have unrestricted access to recruit on military bases.  Veterans and military groups, as well as other Senators, are now working to stop this Manchin amendment.

Senator Manchin’s amendment might please, among others, a for-profit college headquartered in his home state, American Public University System (APUS), which runs the online schools American Military University and American Public University. APUS, whose student body has been more than 50 percent active duty military, has more reasonable tuition prices and is the subject of fewer student complaints than some of the worst for-profit schools, but it had a 23 percent student loan default rate in the most recent reported year, 2012 — a dramatic increase from previous years. APUS saw its student enrollment grow by some 400 percent in the five years leading up to 2012, in a period when for-profit and online education exploded, spurred by reckless deregulation under the Bush Administration.

But beyond concerns about APUS, the Manchin amendment, which was adopted by voice vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee, would allow even the most predatory colleges to recruit service members on bases without restrictions.

The existing Pentagon rules, set in motion by President Obama’s 2012 Executive Order, allow all schools fair access to military bases, if they obtain permission and agree to make truthful disclosures to students and avoid over-aggressive and deceptive recruiting.

Last year the Pentagon banned the biggest for-profit college, troubled University of Phoenix, from bases and from tuition aid for alleged recruiting violations that the Defense Department termed “disconcerting” in “frequency and scope.”  Leading veterans groups, such as Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, Student Veterans of America, and Vietnam Veterans of America, had helped formulate the current rules, and those and other groups wrote to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter last fall to thank him for enforcing the rules by penalizing the University of Phoenix and to report that many of their members had “experienced deceptive recruiting” by colleges including the University of Phoenix.

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Aggressive pressure from Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain (R-AZ) on behalf of Phoenix, his home state institution, led to a Pentagon reversal of its decision early this year.  Now, the Manchin amendment could aid McCain’s mission to roll back protections for service members, and increase access for predatory colleges that give generous campaign donations to McCain and other politicians.

Other Senators want to defeat this harmful Manchin amendment. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), another Armed Services Committee member, issued a statement questioning why schools should have this compelled access to bases, when they already can recruit online and can recruit on military posts with the permission of the base commander. The existing rules, Heinrich said, “seem appropriate to ensure predatory recruiting practices are curtailed, which gave rise to those regulations in the first place.”  Heinrich also questioned as “particularly troubling” an aspect of the Manchin amendment that would require access to be granted in proportion to the number of students enrolled by each school; he said such a shift “has the potential to incentivize predatory conduct.”  Heinrich added that the Manchin amendment “appears to create a significant security concern for commanders.”

Heinrich called for the Manchin amendment to be reconsidered on the Senate floor, and other Senators agree with him and are planning to again highlight the harms of predatory recruiting against U.S. troops.

Veterans groups are also uniting against the Manchin amendment, arguing in letters they have drafted to McCain and to Manchin, “Weakening the existing DOD regulations is the opposite of what servicemembers need right now.”  They add, “we remain concerned that some educational institutions are still engaged in misleading and aggressive recruiting on military installations, as recent law enforcement actions have demonstrated.”  The letters, still circulating for signatures, have already been joined by the Air Force Sergeants Association, Air Force Women Officers Associated, Association of the United States Navy, Blue Star Families, Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, National Association for Black Veterans, Veterans Education Success, VetJobs, Vietnam Veterans of America, and at least twelve other veterans or student advocacy groups.

UPDATE 05-26-16 12:15 pm:

Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Al Franken (D-MN), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Ed Markey (D-MA) have introduced an amendment to strip the Manchin provision from the defense authorization bill.   “Congress should be defending our military against for-profit colleges’ predatory and aggressive tactics, not inviting these companies on bases where servicemembers live and work,” said Brown. “We need to keep for-profit colleges off of military bases….”

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights issued a statement supporting the Senators’ amendment. It reads in part:

The Manchin amendment is unnecessary, as DOD already sets guidelines for colleges to have adequate access to military installations, especially for academic advising. Also, the Manchin amendment undermines the DOD’s goal of ensuring members of the military are able to perform their duties without being subjected to harassment by aggressive college recruiters, a practice often performed by forprofit institutions. The civil rights community has become increasingly concerned about the rise of the forprofit educational industry, and adoption of the Manchin amendment would lead to an increase in misleading and aggressive recruiting by for-profit schools on military bases. People of color represent a significant portion of the military, and oftentimes, they are recruited to enroll at for-profit institutions. Research suggests that for-profit institutions are undermining rather than enhancing economic opportunities for African-American and Latino students. Students attending for-profit institutions have comparatively worse performance outcomes than those at public and private non-profit institutions. Data show that students at four-year for-profit institutions are less likely to graduate and more likely to default on their student loans. At the same time, students attending for-profit institutions borrow significantly more money to cover college costs. Students of color who enter programs of study with virtually-guaranteed poor outcomes are left with crippling debt, few prospects for repayment, and compromised future opportunities. We urge you to help strip the Manchin amendment in order to hold predatory colleges responsible for their fraudulent and abusive tactics.

The Hill and Politico have now written about the controversy.

This article also appears on Huffington Post.