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'Not recommended' list of schools draws criticism

Aug. 18, 2014 - 01:00PM   |  
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For years, public officials and organizations have warned veterans not to waste their education benefits at bad schools. But those warnings have almost always neglected to detail which schools are “bad.”

“On every base, there’s a list of not-recommended businesses for active duty,” said D. Wayne Robinson, president and chief executive officer of Student Veterans of America. “There should be the same for schools.”

SVA tried to create such a list itself in July. The backlash that followed may explain why others have been reluctant.

In recent years, many schools have been accused of serving vets poorly, with overly aggressive recruiting, poor education quality or other practices.

But the not-recommended list included only three schools: Everest College, Heald College and WyoTech, all owned by Corinthian Colleges Inc., which found itself in trouble with the U.S. Education Department amid questions about its marketing practices and the accuracy of its grade, attendance and job placement data.

In early July, Corinthian agreed to sell off or close its campuses. Yet, after making that agreement with the Education Department, the school’s representatives continued to attend education fairs at some military bases and try to get service members to enroll.

“That highly concerned me,” Robinson said.

Robinson said SVA reached out to Corinthian to discuss the issue, as it had in similar situations. But while other schools responded and addressed the organization’s concerns, Corinthian did not.

Only then did Corinthian’s schools end up on SVA’s not-recommended list, Robinson said.

But even with the careful process and limited scope described by Robinson, SVA’s list was quickly criticized.

“We value our student veterans and appreciate the service they have provided to our country and the sacrifices they have made,” Art Herman, president of the Blairsville, Pa., WyoTech campus, and Guy Warpness, president of the Laramie, Wyo., WyoTech campus, said in a joint letter.

The letter made no mention of the Education Department concerns or the looming campus closures and sales, but it noted high graduation rates posted by WyoTech schools and added that its students have expressed happiness with WyoTech in surveys.

“SVA should check its facts and talk with our student veterans before blacklisting our campuses and making inaccurate statements to the public,” the letter said.

Robinson said he’s seen such letters but has still not been able to schedule a meeting with Corinthian officials. He added that he views the Corinthian schools as a “special case” because they haven’t responded to his organization, and he doesn’t foresee SVA’s list growing dramatically.

But outside groups also expressed reservations about SVA’s effort.

Meagan Lutz, a spokeswoman for the Veterans Affairs Department, said VA “neither endorses nor approves” such lists, whether they aim to highlight bad schools or good schools. Instead, she said, prospective students should use VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool and research which schools have committed to abide by the 2012 executive order listing principles that schools should follow when educating service members and vets.

Ryan Gallucci of Veterans of Foreign Wars expressed sympathy for SVA, saying that whether to call out schools that appear to be doing wrong “is the kind of dilemma that our organization has faced over the last three years.”

With scant information available on how veterans fare academically at particular schools, determining which schools are doing well and which are doing poorly can be very difficult, Gallucci said, noting that schools can look good in one measure, such as graduation rate, and bad in another, such as loan default rate.

And even when veterans service organizations are convinced a school is serving its vet students poorly, demonstrating that can be very difficult, he said.

“Naming good and bad actors is a very complicated task.”

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