Veterans deserve better educational opportunities

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Harry Alford & Kay DeBow

Beyond the Rhetoric

By  Harry C. Alford

As a veteran who served my country, I feel strongly that others who serve are entitled to leave the military with an education and become further educated so they can advance in civilian society. It’s one of the most important things we can do to support the men and women who would die to protect us.

Yet Democrats in Congress are now moving forward with a secretive plan, in the guise of helping veterans, that would fundamentally limit both how students can fund their higher education and how veterans can use their earned benefits.

Lawmakers are trying to insert into the unrelated COVID relief bill a provision to change the so-called 90/10 rule, a move that could potentially disrupt the education of thousands of veterans who attend proprietary institutions.

Activists claim that the rule gives so-called predatory schools an incentive to recruit veterans, since it doesn’t count GI Bill benefits as federal revenue. In actuality, altering the rule would force veterans and other students to come up with more money to fund their education, money many don’t have.

That’s not helping veterans, it’s hurting them.

I recently warned something like this could happen. If this provision is allowed to stay in the package, it would put more financial strain on our current and past service members. Many are not traditional brick-and-mortar college students. Legislators would be ignorant to the reality of people from economically disadvantaged communities or work- ing parents juggling multiple responsibilities.

One of the veterans who would have been hurt by this change is Shawn Joy. A retired Air Force master sergeant who served for more than two decades, he obtained his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Trident University International, which is part of the American InterContinental University system.

In a recent conversation with Shawn, he raved about the experience.

The curriculum, he said, was excellent–his wife claimed it was a more challenging experience than hers was at a brick-and-mortar college. Teachers and administrators were supportive, and the benefits were nothing short of amazing.

Working full-time while attending his online degree courses, Shawn started as a cashier at an Air Force base, making GS-3 level wages. Now, he is a GS-12 working in human resources and information systems for the Air Force, and he credits his education for the advancements.

If he had been forced to seek other sources of funding beyond his GI Bill benefits by a change in 90/10, however, Shawn said he might not have sought a degree at all. Shawn, who is 48 and married with children, said he especially loved the flexibility that his school offered.

He is not alone. As two retired military officials recently noted, many veterans “prefer the student-focused, flexible schedules, mostly online instruction” of proprietary universities like Trident.

A decision to change 90/10, especially without public debate, would affect many of these hard-working veterans and other students in potentially drastic ways. In fact, a just-released study concluded that altering the formula could cause nearly 100,000 veterans, service members and their families to lose their education benefits.

Even more unsettling, the effects would be especially pronounced for the types of minority students I work with at the National Black Chamber of Commerce.

I know that Washington is often filled with bad ideas. But that doesn’t mean the citizenry has to stand by and accept them. The evidence shows that changing 90/10 is a bad idea. And doing it by sneaking the provision into a COVID relief bill—and not separating it out to be judged on its own merits—is even worse.

Congress should reject this ill-advised idea. Our student veterans deserve nothing less.

Mr. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Ms. DeBow is the Co-Founder, Executive Vice President of the chamber. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Emails: halford@nationalbcc.org;  kdebow@nationalbcc.org.

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