One of the many great aspects of the United States is that we allow and encourage all consumers to find the education that best meets their needs. For veterans, this freedom is particularly important. Many student veterans don’t want to live in a dormitory with a group of recent high school graduates and enroll in five liberal arts courses delivered to lecture halls filled with 200 or more students. Transitioning veterans are simply at a different place in both their lives and their academic pursuits.
So, it comes as a bit of a wonder — and disappointment — that the Majority Staff of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee issued a new report raising concerns about the dramatic increase in veterans attending private sector institutions. When one sets aside ideology, you come to appreciate the work of these colleges and universities.
Private sector institutions appeal to military and veteran students with their career-focused and accelerated academic programs. This academic environment enables veterans to move quickly from Afghanistan or Iraq to the workplace in their home town. Private sector institutions also provide flexible schedules allowing veterans to work and learn at the same time, an important criteria for many veterans who also support a family.
And they resist the large class lectures where any student, including a veteran, can get lost in the crowd; you’ll be hard pressed to find a class at a private sector institution with more than 20 students. And for those student veterans and servicemembers that require the increased flexibility of an online environment due to life demands — raising a family, working full-time or serving in uniform — private sector colleges continue to meet their needs by leveraging technology.
During my tenure as the executive director of Student Veterans of America (SVA), I was an advocate for veterans’ education and their hard-earned benefits. This included support for programs such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill; a strong Yellow Ribbon Program (which covers certain higher education costs not fully provided by the Post-9/11 GI Bill); in-state tuition for veterans and their families at public institutions; best practices in the academic and student services for the veteran students; and a recognition that veterans are at a different place in their life than recent high school graduates.
To the surprise of some, at the end of my time with SVA, I chose to work with America’s private sector colleges and universities. This decision was easy for me. I’ve witnessed this sector’s commitment to supporting veterans as they transition into the classroom by providing them with the postsecondary experience they seek.
Building on a foundation of support for non-traditional students, two years ago, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU) invited leaders from veteran service organizations to provide the sector with expert counsel in the development of a set of best practices for veterans and military education. In advancing that work, my job now is to assist private sector institutions in meeting the myriad new requirements emanating from Washington, D.C. and to strengthen the range of best practices already being implemented.
When I began my new role, I started by telling this sector to prepare for the coming increase in transitioning veterans. Some estimates project that upwards of one million troops will leave active duty service over the next several years. Many will seek to use their GI Bill benefits to pursue a career in the trades, IT, business or health care — the programs that are best offered by private sector institutions. Moreover, many private sector colleges participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program at the highest level, allowing Post-9/11 GI Bill recipients to maximize their benefits.
In essence, it should surprise few that this sector is proud of its service to veterans. This partnership will only continue to grow as more troops leave active duty and these schools continue to provide the programs many transitioning veterans need in order to enter the workforce.
According to the committee report, “the percentage of veterans attending a public college has declined precipitously, from 62 percent in 2009 to just 50 percent in 2013. During the same period, the percentage of veterans enrolling in for-profit colleges increased from 23 to 30 percent of total enrollees.”
Surprised? I’m not.
We should commend private sector institutions for responding to the needs of today’s veterans. And we should be prepared for even larger numbers of veterans attending institutions that respond to their needs in the coming years.
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 U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP), Is the New G.I. Bill Working?: For-Profit Colleges Increasing Veteran Enrollment and Federal Funds (Majority Staff Report), July 30, 2014 http://www.harkin.senate.gov/documents/pdf/53d8f7f69102e.pdf
 Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU), Report of the APSCU Blue Ribbon Taskforce for Military and Veteran Education, February 2013, http://www.career.org/policy-and-issues/federal-issues/military-veterans-ed/upload/Report-of-Blue-Ribbon-Taskforce_Feb2013.pdf
 The Fiscal Year 2014 Budget for Veterans’ Programs: Hearing Before the Committee on Veterans Affairs, U.S. Senate, 113th Congress (2013) (statement of the Honorable Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs), http://www.veterans.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/shinseki-4-15-13.pdf
 Senate HELP Majority Report, Is the New G.I. Bill Working?, p. i
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