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WHEN MAE MCGARRY RETURNED FROM ACTIVE DUTY IN IRAQ, she was excited about using her Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to get a degree that would lead to a new career and a promising future for her family. An Alabama-headquartered for-profit school promised the Army veteran a solid education that would help her fulfill her dreams.

Some for-profit colleges and universities, like the

one McGarry attended, are recruiting veterans and servicemembers. Traditionally, these schools enroll students who don’t fit the mold of the typical college undergrad; students tend to be older and come from lower income brackets, and many are the first in their family to attend college. They also are more likely to rely on need-based federal student aid. In an attempt to prevent schools from relying solely

on federal funds, Congress created the “90/10 rule,” a requirement that 10 percent of a school’s funds must come from private sources. The free market was ex- pected to weed out poorly performing schools. If a school wasn’t providing an education students were willing to invest their own hard-earned dollars in, then taxpayers shouldn’t be investing in it either. Unfortunately, when Congress updated the rule in the 1990s, military education benefits — like those in the Post-9/11 GI Bill as well as tuition-assistance funds from DoD — weren’t included in the pool of federal dollars. Since this loophole was created, for-profit schools have been rushing through it. The oversight has put a target on the backs of service- members and veterans like McGarry, who spent three semesters with her nose in the books, working toward a de- gree in criminal justice. When she thought her hard work was about to pay off, she discovered the school was not re- gionally accredited (the highest available form of accredita- tion), which makes obtaining a career in law enforcement — or any other field — challenging. “At this point, I had used up my GI bill and was saddled with $50,000 in stu- dent loan debt for a worthless degree,” she says. “Every semester, these schools continue to over

promise and under deliver,” says Matthew Boulay, president of the Veterans’ Student Loan Relief Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides small grants de- signed to help those who have accumulated excessive amounts of student loan debt and feel they have been defrauded or misled by the for-profit college or career/


trade school they attended. “They continue to waste taxpayer dollars. It is a daunting problem.”

Reaping benefits Since 2009, more than a million servicemembers and vet- erans and their families have financed their higher edu- cation using the GI bill. In the past five years, 40 percent of Post-9/11 GI Bill tuition benefits have gone to for-profit schools, according to the VA. Many of these schools have developed aggressive tactics and misleading marketing campaigns aimed at getting as many veterans enrolled as possible. Their efforts are paying off. According to a report by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pen- sions Committee, eight of the top 10 recipients of Post- 9/11 GI Bill benefits are for-profit schools. Of those eight, seven are under investigation for

deceptive and misleading recruiting or other possible violations of state and federal law. “I always think of this as our second battle,” Boulay

says. “The first battle was for the [Post-9/11] GI bill itself.” The sense of victory that came with the bill’s passage in 2008 and its implementation in 2009 was short-lived. “Two years after the bill passed, we began to learn of these abusive practices.” The scope of the problem was not immediately clear.

“Many veterans find it difficult to talk about getting ripped off. I think military culture creates this sense of responsi- bility where many of them blame themselves,” says Boulay, who served in the Marine Corps Reserve. “In fact, that’s the nature of fraud. You are defrauded and lied to, and it’s only much later that you realize that you were a victim.” In addition to providing grants to individual students,

his organization has been helping veterans tell their stories — particularly to other veterans. He and his col- leagues also have been encouraging federal agencies and state law enforcement to take a closer look at these schools. “This is war profiteering at its worst,” Boulay says. “It’s people making money on the backs of veterans; people making money on the backs of the young men

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