Defending the Defenders

When times get tough, people start to take desperate measures. In a tough economy, companies seek ways to get a guaranteed dollar -- even if it involves duping our nation's heroes.
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When times get tough, people start to take desperate measures. In a tough economy, companies seek ways to get a guaranteed dollar -- even if it involves duping our nation's heroes.

One of the greatest benefits of joining the military is the education assistance: Active-duty troops get tuition support, while service members and veterans have access to the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. With rising tuition costs and challenging times for college students, some colleges have used these benefits improperly.

Unfortunately, troops have been targeted with aggressive marketing tactics while getting a lackluster education in return. In December, I sat on a roundtable panel with Mrs. Holly Petraeus, wife of CIA Director General Petraeus. She fielded stories from the North Carolina National Guard about common practices that were ripping off Guardsmen. In one example, a soldier who attended a career fair was approached by a school who wanted to walk him through "how" one would enroll. Months later, he received a bill for thousands of dollars for classes he was unknowingly registered for. These same schools had also been misleading service members into taking programs that carried no value in the real world. After exhausting their entire tuition benefit, they essentially were left with a useless piece of paper.

In response to various complaints, President Obama stepped in to take a stand for our troops. In April 2012, he signed an executive order to curb deceptive practices by schools and to protect the benefits of our veterans. Executive Order #13607 basically screams "you will not cheat our country's defenders out of a quality education that they earned." It outlines principles of excellence in regards to service members, their spouses and dependents. Likewise, it pledges that a thorough plan will be implemented by collaboration between the Departments of Defense and Education that outlines compliance measures and a place where students can report abusive schools.

With hundreds of schools seeking undergraduate dollars, how can students decipher between quality curriculum and sales quota fillers? How do you find an institution with value behind the degree? In seeking my own degree, I did a quick Google search of "military friendly schools." First, I was overwhelmed with ads touting phrases like "military-friendly degrees" and "we support our veterans." Then, I came across a site that has gotten lost in copycat phrases. The site created by the magazine G.I. Jobs, produces a Military-Friendly Schools list each year.

Regrettably, schools have devalued this resource by using the same phrase in their sales pitch. The Military Friendly Schools list requires schools to give straightforward feedback on their programs, including types of degrees offered, credit transfer policy, and the level of support they offer veterans and their families. The questionnaire that schools must complete to appear on the list basically asks these schools: "What will your program do for our vets?"

When a school boasts about being military-friendly, you need to know whether that means military supportive or simply accepting of military dollars. As a member of a community that represents honor, courage, and commitment, it's reprehensible to me that there are companies out there trying to take advantage of that. As if giving a decade of sacrifice is not enough, now our troops have to worry whether the people providing them with education are friends or foes. Luckily, the buck stops here, literally; when your marketing tactics are brought to the attention of the President of the United States, you should feel ashamed of yourself for becoming part of the problem.

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