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“Dollar Signs in Uniform”: How For-Profit Schools Scam Veterans

Wes Creel / Abound: Finish College

If you’re a veteran (or related to one), the government offers you all kinds of rewards and incentives to go back to school. While this may be a wonderful benefit of military service that you should definitely make use of, you should also beware—there are many scammers out there looking to take advantage of you! And one of the most common sources of swindle are for-profit colleges.

Maybe you’ve seen their slick ads or have been roped into one of their exploitative “pain funnels” aimed at using your personal pain points to get you to sign up with them. As persuasive as they may be, you’re better off spending your U.S.-backed dollars at a non-profit school (like any of the ones on our site).

Why? It’s easy: for-profit colleges cost an average of $4,000 more than public colleges and have sky-high dropout rates. As many as 60% of students who enrolled in some of the largest for-profit programs never received diplomas and left within a year of enrollment. Those same dropouts are now stuck with the bill and have no way to pay it. If you use your benefits on a for-profit, there is a good chance they could be squandered.

Here’s a breakdown of how and why for-profit schools will treat you like a “Dollar Sign in Uniform”:

Faking You Out with Official-Looking Materials

Some for-profit schools have gone to unethical and even illegal lengths to convince veterans to enroll. In fact, a report from the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee found that seven of the eight companies that receive the most G.I. Bill funding are currently under investigation for “deceptive and misleading recruiting or other possible violations of state and federal law.”

Let’s break down what that looks like with a few examples:

  • Corinthian Colleges illegally used the official seals of the United States Navy, Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard in its advertising to veterans.
  • Internet marketing company QuinnStreet was forced to pay the government $2.5 million after the company registered GIBill.com and used the seemingly official website to generate leads for for-profit colleges.
  • Other schools have even recruited students at wounded warrior centers and hospitals.

You have to ask yourself how good a school can actually be if they have to resort to these kinds of practices. Considering the fat profits they make by selling an education that is too often sub-par and devastating to the careers and finances of students, it’s fairly safe to say that they are generally not worth your time or money.

The Pain Funnel

We all have our personal stories of love and loss, be it in the line of duty or in our own lives. And in some cases, we can view education as a path to redemption. “If I get an education,” we think, “I can get a better job and get my life back on track.” We often base these assumption on stories that we’ve heard about this kind of success.

Many of these stories are inspiring and true. Unfortunately, in the hands of the marketing and recruitment departments of many for-profit colleges, they are too often used as bait to draw you into what they call the “Pain Funnel”.

When interviewed, some former for-profit recruiters described how they had been specifically trained to exploit people’s personal pain and disappointment. They are taught to take advantage of students’ belief in the redemptive storyline mentioned earlier—otherwise known as “the education gospel.”  

A recent documentary entitled Fail State shares the story of a woman whose daughter had been killed at the young age of 20. Desperate to turn her own life around, she enrolled in, and eventually graduated from, a for-profit college. Guiding her along the whole way was a recruiter who acted acted like both a therapist and a friend. However, after graduation, she had a rude awakening: her degree was worthless in her field. Today, she’s still at the same job as when she started, only now with $50,000 in debt that she blames on herself.

For-profit schools are counting on students who drop out to blame themselves for being unable to finish or for not spotting the scam sooner; that’s the only way they can continue to do what they do without the government intervening. Short of advocating for fairer conditions and rules in the field, your best bet is to avoid these schools altogether.

Worthless Degrees

As we mentioned in the previous section, worthless degrees can be a big problem. But what is a “worthless degree?” Well, degrees can become worthless in a number of ways.

Degrees are worthless when:

  1. They lack proper accreditation. (See our article on the topic for more details)
  2. Employers do not value the curriculum covered in their courses.

Unfortunately, too many students from for-profits end up deep in debt with a worthless degree, with little or no recourse against the schools that scammed them. Non-profit schools, on the other hand, are held to far higher standards and feature excellent student services to make sure you not only graduate, but are also able to find a good job once you graduate.

Fudging the 90/10 rule

In 1992, Congress approved a bill known as the ‘90/10 rule.’ The rule says that, if a for-profit school wants to be eligible to receive federal assistance, at least 10% of their revenue has to come from private tuition dollars. In other words, they can’t stay open by relying solely on government-funded students (through grants, financial aid, etc.).

But many have found a loophole: the G.I. Bill is technically counted as private funds. By targeting veterans for enrollment, for-profit universities can now make money entirely through government programs. That’s why they need military servicemen—already flush with pre-paid education funding—so desperately. It’s the main reason why they see you as a “dollar sign in uniform.”

Resources That Can Help

Luckily for veterans, Uncle Sam has your back. There are official sites from the VA designed to help you navigate the process of claiming your benefits and using them at the school of your choice. The many tools include a G.I. Bill Comparison Tool as well information on affordability, foreign schools, questions to ask your school, and much more.

We’ve got your back too. Here at Abound: Finish College, we have an easy-to-use list of non-profit schools that meet our high standards of excellence and reputation and have the best programs in the country tailored to adult students like yourself. We also have some great advice to help you navigate the ins and outs of the college experience.

Whatever you choose, we hope this helps you avoid some of the sneakier scams out there along your path to academic success. Good luck!

More Helpful Resources:

Going Back to School as a Military Veteran

How Can I Tell if a Degree Program is Legitimate or a Scam?

Beating the Confidence Gap and Earning Your Degree

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