Military Times: Tactical Veteran: More States Offering In-State Tuition to Vets

February 11, 2014

US News & World Report: For-Profit Colleges May Be Better at Meeting Some Student Needs, Report Says

February 11, 2014

By Allie Bidwell

For-profit colleges may be doing a better job of serving the needs and desires of certain types of students than public and not-for-profit colleges, according to new research released Monday.

In a survey of more than 400 current and former students of for-profit colleges, as well as 803 prospective students considering for-profits, the nonprofit organization Public Agenda found that both groups were overwhelmingly satisfied with the quality of their education while in school – measured by small class sizes, instructors who care about their students, and school officials who provide  hands-on help with financial aid applications.

“We found overwhelming enthusiasm among both current undergraduates from for-profits and alumni in terms of a whole list of key quality indicators for schools,” says Carolin Hagelskamp, lead researcher for the study. “For all of these things, students and alumni were very positive about when it came to their school.”

[READ: Transfers to For-Profit Colleges Earn Less Than Others, Report Finds]

The study also found a distinct divide between the kinds of services students look for, based on what types of colleges they are considering. Among prospective students, those considering for-profit colleges were more likely to highly prioritize schools that allowed them to graduate quickly, offer online classes and provide hands-on help from career counselors, financial aid advisers and tutors.

Although the research doesn't establish whether there is a causal relationship between prospective students' priorities and the types of schools they choose, students' reported priorities combined with their satisfaction while attending for-profits begs the question if those institutions are better than not-for-profit schools at serving the needs of some students, Hagelskamp said in a statement.

Noah Black, vice president of communications for the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, tells U.S. News in a statement that the report is a sign for-profit colleges are “being responsive to today’s students in ways that traditional institutions are not.”

“There is demand for education that meets these needs and if our institutions were not meeting that demand, many of these new traditional students would not have an opportunity to receive higher education,” Black says.

Still, both current and former students are concerned about the financial burden of these schools, and some remain skeptical about the value of their degrees in the job market. The for-profit sector has come under fire for what some say are aggressive recruitment tactics, and the fact that they tend to have lower graduation rates and higher student loan default rates than other types of colleges.

[MORE: Democratic Report Blasts For-Profit Colleges]

DeVry Education Group – the company that operates several for-profit institutions – disclosed last Jan. 28 that it is under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for its advertising and marketing practices. The FTC is looking into whether DeVry Education Group has violated Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.”

Responses from prospective students in the Public Agenda survey seem to be in line with claims that for-profit colleges attract most of their students from advertising and recruitment efforts. 

Among adults interested in for-profit colleges, 75 percent said they learned about colleges from commercials, billboards or other ads, for example, compared with 60 percent of those interested in public or private not-for-profit schools.

“There’s a lot of talk ... that for-profits are particularly good at advertising and providing a certain kind of education that some people are particularly interested in, which is accelerated education, online education, practical programs,” Hagelskamp says. “It kind of fits with this idea that somehow the for-profit sector is at least better in highlighting these services. Then we think the next question is: 'Are they also better at providing them?'”

The report also notes that 61 percent of current for-profit students are unaware of how much debt the average student graduates with, and just 31 percent say they know a great deal about the types of jobs and salaries available for graduates from their programs of study.

[RELATED: Change to Loan Qualifications Hurt Students at HBCUs, For-Profit Colleges]

And while current students are more optimistic about the value of their degrees and certificates, alumni were more skeptical. More than one-third of alumni (37 percent) said their degrees were “well worth it.” But another 32 percent said they were not, and the remaining 30 percent said the value of their degrees is yet to be seen.

“That’s a big number of people who invested quite a bit into their education, who aren't sure that it was well worth it, even though they think they got not bad-quality when they were there,” Hagelskamp says. “They’re skeptical on how much they learned that was worth it for the labor market and whether the degree was valued in the labor market.”

But the percentage of alumni who remain unsure of the value of their degrees is likely a product of the economy, Black says.

Still, the report says even among alumni who graduated before 2012 – and have had more time to look for a job – 70 percent did not say their certificates or degrees were well worth it.

Despite the skepticism among alumni looking back on the value of their certificates and degrees, most don’t say their schools prepared them poorly. More than half (58 percent) said their schools did either an excellent or a good job teaching them real-world skills to succeed in the workforce. Another 27 percent said their schools did a fair job accomplishing this goal, while 11 percent said their schools did a poor job, and 3 percent didn't know.

“That’s really where this question comes in that even though students are happy, is it worth it given the costs?” Hagelskamp says. “Could they have the same high-quality experience for a lower cost in a public school?”

But the survey also came to the conclusion that for-profit undergraduates aren't comparative shoppers. Fewer than half of current for-profit students said they seriously considered more than one, and nearly half don’t understand the difference between for-profit and nonprofit schools.

[SEE ALSO: How to Vet a For-Profit Online Program]

“We believe it’s something that needs to be addressed, just for people to make more informed decisions, not that they should go one way or the other, but it’s an important piece of information,” Hagelskamp says.

There was also a distinct divide among students who did consider more than one school, Hagelskamp says. There was a group that considered for-profit schools and a group that considered mainly public schools, with very little overlap. But shopping around is uncommon among other groups of students as well, the report says. Previous research showed fewer than 4 in 10 community college students seriously considered other schools before enrolling at their community colleges, the report says.

“The whole idea of prospective students being these comparative, very deliberate, rational shoppers of education that education leaders would like them to be, given all the information and all the effort that’s being put into providing information, we’re just not seeing that in this group either,” Hagelskamp says.

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The Chronicle for Higher Education: Alumni of For-Profit Colleges Have Mixed View of Experience

February 10, 2014

By Katherine Mangan

Students and graduates of for-profit colleges give their institutions high marks for teaching quality and scheduling flexibility, but nearly a third of the alumni conclude that, given the colleges’ relatively high costs, the investment isn’t worth it, according to a report being released on Monday by Public Agenda, a nonprofit research group.

The report, "Profiting Higher Education? What Students, Alumni, and Employers Think About For-Profit Colleges," was financed by the Kresge Foundation. It was based on responses from a representative sampling of about 800 prospective students, 200 undergraduates, 250 alumni, and 650 employers, as well as the findings of focus groups with employers and adult prospective students.

On the plus side, students cited caring instructors, small classes, and efficient programs. The results were mixed when it came to the perceived value of the colleges’ degrees. Thirty-seven percent of the alumni said the degrees were "well worth it," while 32 percent said it "really wasn’t worth it." Thirty percent said the jury’s still out.

Meanwhile, about half of the employers saw no difference in quality between for-profit and public colleges, but among those that did differentiate, "employers tended to favor traditional institutions, with many saying that they’d prefer to hire a candidate from a reputable state school versus one from a for-profit school," the report said.

"It portrays a nuanced picture" of a sector that enrolls 13 percent of the nation’s undergraduate students, Will Friedman, president of Public Agenda, said in an interview on Friday.

"We find that both current students and alumni are satisfied with a number of aspects, including teacher quality, but that’s counterbalanced by a strong concern about the cost."

What the Colleges Do Well

Carolin Hagelskamp, Public Agenda’s director of research and the report’s lead author, acknowledged that the study had been conducted during a rough time for job seekers, a factor that could have colored their perspectives on the value of their degrees.

Still, she said, "many graduates of for-profit schools put some blame on their schools for not adequately preparing them for the job market."

In a report published in November, also with support from Kresge, Public Agenda found that most students were doing remarkably little research before picking a college and that they weren’t taking advantage of voluminous data that’s available to them, much of it on the web.

Despite all of the public debate about for-profit colleges among policy makers and education experts, more than half of the students attending the colleges thought their institutions were nonprofit, the new report said.

In a statement released on Friday, Noah A. Black, a spokesman for the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the main trade group for the for-profit sector, said the report validated what the colleges are doing well. Among the pluses: Nearly all of the undergraduates surveyed said they were receiving guidance and support, and 83 percent of the undergraduates said their colleges had helped them with financial-aid applications.

"As this report details, private-sector institutions are being responsive to today’s students in ways that traditional institutions are not," Mr. Black wrote. "This includes flexibility in courses and timing, offering skills demanded by employers, and accepting and accommodating students from a variety of backgrounds."

Public Agenda conducted a parallel study of community-college students that found they were equally happy with their colleges, but less worried about finances than their counterparts at for-profit institutions.

Mr. Friedman said he hoped the report would add valuable new information to the debate about for-profit colleges. The sector, he said, "warrants scrutiny, particularly on questions of cost and student recruitment, but it’s also clear that these colleges are responding skillfully to the needs of a significant number of America’s students."

Stars and Stripes: New GI Bill tool helps calculate benefits, compares schools

February 5, 2014

By Matthew M. Burke

 The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched a new tool to help servicemembers, veterans and their families calculate Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and compare schools and training programs nationwide.

The GI Bill Comparison Tool brings together information from more than 17 online sources and three federal agencies and seeks to provide key information about costs and quality of education.

The comparison tool was developed in response to President Barack Obama’s Executive Order 13607 of April 27, 2012, which instructed agencies to establish standards for educational institutions that interact with servicemembers, veterans and their families, provide information on the costs and quality of institutions and programs, prevent deceptive recruiting practices and provide quality academic and student support services, according to a VA statement announcing the launch of the program.

The order was preceded by years of predatory practices in which institutions and programs failed to deliver on educational promises, leading many in Washington to suggest that large amounts of benefit dollars were being wasted.

The VA still has to work out some bugs with the new site, but customers will be able to calculate and even apply for their benefits, take an interests-and-aptitudes assessment, compare schools and programs, peruse careers and job opportunities and have access to counseling services.

Users also will be able to compare the number of students receiving VA benefits at each school.

In addition to calculating benefit funding, the tool also shows how much users can receive for books and living stipends and whether the school in question participates in the VA’s Yellow Ribbon Program, which helps students avoid out-of-pocket tuition and fees that may exceed the Post 9/11 GI Bill tuition benefit. The tool also shows how the school compares to others in graduation rates and financial aid, according to a statement from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who along with Student Veterans of America and the American Legion have worked closely with the White House and legislators on initiatives such as the comparison tool.

“Before this tool launched, estimating how much beneficiaries may receive under the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit was challenging,” VA Deputy Undersecretary for the Office of Economic Opportunity Curtis Coy wrote in a VA blog posting. “The new comparison tool makes it easy to estimate Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits with just one click.”

Coy also said that the VA will add functionality in the future, such as the ability to compare up to three schools side-by-side.

“By offering student veterans better comparison information, we help them to choose the right schools and programs that match their goals,” VFW National Commander William Thien said in the statement. “In the past, veterans who wanted to use their GI Bill educational benefits would have to search through three different government agencies to find all of the information they can now find in a few simple clicks on the new Department of Veterans Affairs comparison tool.”

The launch was also applauded by college and university representatives.

“We’re very supportive of the comparison tool,” said Michael Dakduk, vice president of military and veterans affairs for the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, a voluntary membership organization of accredited, private, postsecondary schools, institutes, colleges and universities. “It will allow military veterans to choose the institution that best fits their needs.”

The comparison tool comes on the heels of the VA’s launch last week of a secure online GI Bill complaint system to report fraud, waste and abuse. That website is designed to collect feedback from servicemembers, veterans and their families on issues they might be experiencing with educational institutions that receive funding from federal military and veterans benefits programs such as the GI Bill and tuition assistance.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is an educational benefit program created by Congress in 2008. Veterans and servicemembers are generally eligible if they have served on active duty for 90 or more days since Sept. 10, 2001. The VA has dispersed more than $30 billion in tuition and education-related payments to more than 1 million servicemembers, veterans and their families since 2009, the VA statement said.