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Certain For-profit Colleges Leave Veterans in a Bind

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Terry Jack will be the first one to tell you he has made his share of mistakes. By his own account, the Army veteran from Tucson, Arizona, has been twice convicted of a DUI.

He says the second time — which occurred in 2014 — cost him 90 days in jail, and his driver’s license was revoked.

Terry Jack

“As a veteran, I kind of felt embarrassed and humiliated just because of the fact that when you’re in the military, every Friday they have a safety briefing and they tell you not to drink and drive,” Jack says.

“After all those safety briefings, you would have thought I never would have risked getting in a car after a night of alcohol,” he continues. “But I did.”

As consequential as the second DUI has been for Jack, another decision he made proved just as costly, if not more. Jack enrolled in the criminal justice program at Brown Mackie College in Tucson, Arizona.

Sure, Jack got his degree. He has a picture of it posted on his Instagram account, @martialwayz, to prove it.

“Finally picked my degree up,” states his Instagram post from September 24, 2016. “It was official as of July 8, 2016.”

However, Jack, who has struggled to find employment, says he did not get a job in the field of criminal justice. At the same time, he says he owes close to $40,000 in student loans and has exhausted nearly all of his GI benefits.

While arguably his pair of DUIs have been a hindrance to employment, particularly for jobs that might have required a driver’s license, it is uncertain whether Jack would have fared any better with his college degree, even if he had a clean driving record.

By the time Jack got his degree from Brown Mackie College in Tucson, Brown Mackie colleges throughout the nation — owned by Education Management Corp. — were already in trouble. Two thousand Arizonans who attended EDMC schools had their loans forgiven as part of a $95.5 million settlement with the Obama administration in 2015. The schools allegedly ran a “high pressure boiler room where admissions personnel were paid based purely on the number of students they enrolled,” and used “deceptive and misleading” recruiting practices.

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“They are issuing student loan forgiveness,” Jack said. “I’m obviously not one of the people that’s getting it.”

Advocates for veterans say Jack is by no means alone.

“Evidence shows that some bad actor colleges are clearly defrauding most of their students, so we believe hundreds of thousands of veterans are being defrauded,” says Sean Marvin, legal director at Veterans Education Success, or VES, an organization that seeks to help veterans recoup lost GI benefits from shady colleges.

“There are way too many veterans who’ve been defrauded by schools that only care about GI Bill dollars,” Marvin adds. “Those veterans should know that they’re not alone, that being lied to is not their fault, and that they have rights.”

When Jack turned to VES, he told the organization how he was pressured into signing up for a high-interest loan that he wasn’t aware of until after he was nearly done with his bachelor’s program. Whether VES can help Jack get any economic relief remains unclear.

“We’ve submitted the information that Terry provided us to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and hope that the CFPB will look further into his allegations,” Marvin says. “Also, we’ve reached out to Terry recently about helping him apply to the Department of Education for borrower defense to repayment.”

But the prospect of successfully winning a borrower defense claim is dicey at best, especially as the Department of Education seeks to rewrite the borrower defense rules.

“Students seeking forgiveness can qualify by either proving that they were defrauded or through a closed school discharge, but both can be challenging, given various rules and restrictions that apply,” says Antoinette Flores, a senior postsecondary education policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning policy institute based in Washington, D.C.

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“Even if a student applies, there is no guarantee for quick relief,” Flores says. “Since the Trump administration has taken office, they haven’t approved a single claim.”

So Jack is left with a ton of debt and a degree from a school owned by a company that announced last year that it was closing most of its other Brown Mackie campuses due to low enrollment.

A website for the Tucson campus of Brown Mackie College says the school is “no longer accepting new students.”

The website claims that the job placement rate for students who completed the program is 83 percent. However, Flores notes that that figure refers to the 13 percent who finished the program within the prescribed 45 months.

“I wouldn’t quote it as reliable,” Flores says. “That’s their calculation for ACICS and only includes completers.”

ACICS is the acronym for the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, the troubled accreditor that accredited the criminal justice program at Brown Mackie in Tucson. ACICS lost recognition from the U.S. Department of Education during the tail end of the Obama administration, a decision that was upheld in court earlier this year and left dozens of schools scrambling for accreditation — the key to federal financial aid — while others closed or planned to close.

The whole bureaucratic and legal mess has left students such as Jack in the lurch.

“I would say, look, you know, I basically busted my behind,” Jack says. “It actually took me five years, just because of the challenges I was dealing with, to get this degree, and the school is closing.”

Jack says he believes the pending closing of Brown Mackie in Tucson will have an adverse effect on his prospects for employment.

“Obviously you’re gonna look at the credentials,” Jack says. “I have the transcript to prove I took the classes. It’s almost like the degree is worthless now. And now on top of this you’re asking me to pay all these loans off, and with the closing you have to question if the school is credible.”

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Jack says he knew the difference between for-profit colleges such as Brown Mackie and public nonprofit colleges, but signed up for Brown Mackie in Tucson because it had a fancy crime lab.

“There was thousands of dollars of equipment in there,” Jack says. “There was equipment like I’ve never seen before. That’s what impressed me.”

He says the fact that the school offered one accelerated class a month made it more convenient for him, given that he had National Guard duty and was working security at the time.

Now, Jack is still in security. He says he just got hired.

“I’m gonna be working at the convention center,” he says. “It’s basically event security.”

The job is not what he had in mind when he enrolled in the criminal justice program at Brown Mackie in Tucson.

“I’m still in recovering mode,” he says, explaining why he took the job. “I can’t be picky.”

He has signed up for loan deferment in the past and plans to do so again but worries about how long it will be before he actually has to start making loan payments.

“As you well know, you can only be in 36 months of deferment,” Jack says.

The deferment recertification process, which requires applicants to provide information on their income, serves as a painful reminder of Jack’s experience with Brown Mackie.

“What can I tell them?” Jack says. “I haven’t earned any income, and I haven’t started the job that I have right now.”

Efforts to secure a comment from EDMC were not successful.

  • This story also appears in the 19, 2017 print edition of Diverse.

 Jamaal Abdul-Alim can be reached at jabdul-alim@diverseeducation.com

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