For my entire adult life I have been telling people who are either leaving the armed forces or have already separated and are looking for a new career to stay the hell away from any and all for-profit peddlers of “education.” They have been preying on veterans and lusting after their GI Bill bennies at least since the late seventies that I’m personally aware of. Some listened, some didn’t, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Some people are willing victims and others are gulled by the promises of jobs that will provide a middle-class lifestyle in just a few short months!
They were always a scourge, but these predatory outfits really stepped up their game after the new GI Bill was enacted in 2007, and a website with the url GIBill.com popped up that steered vets to for-profit scam schools instead of community colleges and universities. It took five years just to get a freakin’ disclaimer on the top of the homepage clarifying that the site was not an official government entity. Now, as part of a settlement of charges brought by the SEC against QuinnStreet Inc., the company that set up the misleading site, the domain is being handed over to the VA.
In the settlement, state attorneys general accuse QuinStreet of using the GIBill.com address and military symbols to pass off its website as an official government site in order to convince potential students to divulge personal information, which for-profit schools could then use for aggressive marketing. The agreement states that QuinStreet’s business includes “generating ‘leads,’ ” referring to passing on information about potential students to buyers.
There have also been concerns that such websites suggested that only colleges listed on their websites qualified for GI Bill or military tuition assistance benefits. The settlement accuses QuinStreet of presenting potential students with lists of client schools as the only ones meeting their search criteria, and requires that in the future these be labeled as “sponsored results” or a similar term.
The settlement also requires QuinStreet to include expanded disclosures on other “military-oriented and education-related websites.” A disclosure currently graces the top of ArmyStudyGuide.com.
Bloggers presented as experts, under the agreement, must also disclose that they are not currently service members, if they are retired, and their biographies on QuinStreet websites must list the years they served. The sites can also no longer describe clients as “best” or “top” schools unless they cite an independent source.
Of course the company issued the perfunctory denial, claiming that it’s no great loss, the site wasn’t that integral to their bottom line any-old-way — a claim that evokes snorts of derision, followed by hearty guffaws at the audacity of the lie. The fact it never made them a lot of money is why they hung on to it like grim death for five years after veterans groups started to complain.
Getting hold of that domain is a solid first step — now the VA needs to tighten up what schools qualify and put a stop to all payments to schools like DeVry and University of Phoenix and ITT Tech and all the rest. In fact, if I had my ‘druthers, only public universities and community colleges would be acceptable, but that’s my starting position. I would settle for limiting vocational benefit payments to community colleges and all private schools (like Rockhurst U, Park U or Avilla College here in KC) would have to be not just accredited but agree to monitoring by the VA to assure that vets are succeeding at school and graduating.
Of course, that will take another five years — at least — to accomplish. So in the meantime, the VA is patenting the term “GI Bill” so predacious companies like QuinStreet can’t scam veterans out of their benefits without even trying.