Legislation designed to prevent for-profit colleges from gaming the federal aid system and exploiting veterans died within 15 minutes of being introduced earlier this month. U.S. Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, quashed the bill by ruling it nongermane to the topic of financial aid being discussed at his July 10 hearing.
The GI Bill, passed in 1944, has played an important role in building the American middle class by giving millions of veterans a chance to attend college. It is a hallowed reminder of policymaking that promotes the public good. But in its most recent incarnation, this piece of legislation has been vulnerable to the abuses of the for-profit education industry: Since the 2008 passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, for-profit colleges have increasingly recognized that federal funds for returning servicemen and -women create a vast pool of money that they can tap into.
When World War I veterans returned from overseas, they were promised a cash bonus for their service — but they wouldn't get their money until 1945. Then the Great Depression struck. Desperate for relief, in 1932 a group of veterans from Portland, Ore., went to Washington to demand early payment. The protests led to violence — and eventually the GI Bill.
Last winter, the Department of Veterans Affairs tasked its newly hired blogger, a cantankerous Iraq vet named Alex Horton, with investigating the website GIBill.com, one of many official-looking links that come up when you Google terms like "GI Bill schools." With names like ArmedForcesEDU.com and UseYourGIBill.us, these sites purport to inform military veterans how to best use their education benefits. In reality, Horton found, they're run by marketing firms hired by for-profit colleges to extol the virtues of high-priced online or evening courses. He concluded that GIBill.com "serves little purpose other than to funnel student veterans and convince them their options for education are limited to their advertisers."