Protect vulnerable veterans in higher education

Ramond Curtis, Guest Columnist
Published 12:00 p.m. CT Sept. 14, 2020 | Updated 12:50 p.m. CT Sept. 14, 2020


This man has survived roadside bombings and being struck by lightning. Now he’s wrestling men almost half his age.


Colleges and students face a coming crisis, and states must do everything within their power to prepare for the struggles ahead and protect the most vulnerable.

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  • Ramond Curtis is a U.S. Army veteran and state policy manager at Veterans Education Success.

America is navigating an era of uncertainty as we address COVID-19 and prepare for what will likely be the worst recession in generations.

The COVID-19 pandemic will impact every sector of our economy, including higher education. Colleges and students face a coming crisis, and states must do everything within their power to prepare for the struggles ahead and protect the most vulnerable.

Some colleges will be forced to close as they face mounting costs and reduced revenue. Many colleges are already struggling under the weight of reduced tuition revenue, while also paying to keep the campus ready for students and purchasing new online platforms for their faculty to teach students who are stuck at home. 

College closures don’t have to leave students in the cold

There are practical, common-sense steps that state leaders can undertake now to prepare for what’s coming.

First, state leaders can learn from the mistakes of their predecessors to help prevent abrupt college closures.  

Between 2014 and 2019, several large for-profit college chains closed precipitously, including Corinthian, ITT Tech, Argosy University, and The Art Institutes. Many of these closures were preceded by abundant early warning signs that the schools posed a risk to GI Bill beneficiaries and taxpayers.

These early warning signs are readily available from state and federal government agencies.

All it requires is for state leaders to take a look to identify risky schools before they abruptly close. 

Second, assuming some college closures are coming, there are a series of protections state leaders can put in place now to require an orderly closure process, so students don’t have to show up to find the doors locked and their transcripts inaccessible, as happened at Corinthian and ITT Tech.

We outline the specific steps in our new 2020 Toolkit for State Policymakers. Endorsed by both Republican and Democratic state leaders across the country, our toolkit offers practical tips to help state leaders tackle the coming crisis for colleges and students, drawing on our many years of higher education policy expertise. 

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Protecting veterans and the GI Bill from college fraud is another key opportunity for state leaders to tackle now, before problems get really bad, and our toolkit outlines novel ways states can better protect veterans from fraud. As bipartisan lawmakers in Maryland and Oregon have demonstrated, the need to protect veterans is urgent and states have the power to act. 

As veterans face an unemployment rate of nearly 7% as of August, many will turn to school to improve their job prospects or learn a new trade. But it doesn’t always work out well for students, especially veterans whose lucrative GI Bill is too often seen as “easy money” by low-quality, “bad actor” colleges.  

Large for-profit college chains are already laying the groundwork to ramp up advertising and repeat some of the same aggressive, deceptive marketing tactics used during the Great Recession to enroll as many unwitting students as possible, in return for no degree, no transferable credits, and a lot of debt.  

Veterans, service members, and their family members are aggressively targeted by for-profit college salespeople under boiler room pressure, who over-promise and under-deliver, because of an unintended loophole in the cap these schools face on taxpayer-funded student aid.  

The GI Bill was inadvertently overlooked when the funding cap was designed, causing a powerful and perverse incentive to enroll as many veterans as possible to skirt the cap. This has led some for-profit colleges to see service members and veterans as nothing more than dollar signs in uniform.  

States can close this loophole by requiring for-profit colleges to demonstrate a portion of their funds truly come from a source other than taxpayer-funded student aid, or risk losing approval to operate in the state.  This would also ensure the integrity of the funding cap’s purpose – upheld by the Supreme Court – that taxpayers are not artificially propping up failing colleges.   


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We, who proudly defended our nation, have earned our GI Bill through service and sacrifice; we expect colleges to honor our service by delivering their end of the bargain, a quality education that will lead to a good job.

Given the looming financial crisis for American colleges, and the increased recruiting by predatory college chains, now is the time for Tennessee’s leaders to undertake practical steps and common-sense solutions to ensure students and colleges can survive the coming crisis. 

Ramond Curtis is a U.S. Army veteran and state policy manager at Veterans Education Success.  

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