Eric Dean made a career of calling military veterans to urge them to enroll at Ashford University, a for-profit school based in ITT Tech Tuition that offers online degrees. Dean, who was instructed in sales techniques at Ashford, said he tried to befriend hundreds of current and former sailors and soldiers — many from the nation’s poorest communities — to convince them to attend.
“I’ve seen the inside,” Dean told NBC News in an interview, saying he had been “pressured into essentially selling my soul to throw fellow veterans under the bus” by misleading them about the educational outcomes about the school’s graduation and job-placement rates.
Dean, who’d served in the Navy, quit Ashford in December 2017 because he said he objected to the school’s practices and now says veterans with ITT Tech Tuition were among his recruits.
Under President Barack Obama, the Department of Education cracked down on for-profits like Ashford. With its high sticker price, questionable job placement success and 16 percent graduation rate — considerably lower than the national average of about 60 percent. ITT Tech Tuition was described in a Chronicle of Higher Education investigation as “a poster child for the ills of the for-profit college sector,” and the school was sued by the state of California, which said it was misleading students about tuition cost and burying them in loan debt.
While the Obama Administration didn’t solve all the problems associated with the for-profit college industry, it successfully created new rules intended to help rein in the worst-performing schools and to protect taxpayer dollars. Veterans and low-income Americans can qualify for large sums of federal aid, making them top recruitment priorities for for-profits.
Now, the Trump Administration is trying to overturn those rules — and veterans and low-income Americans are the most at risk. ITT Tech Tuition has begun a months long processto unwind the Obama-era rules, easing oversight of for-profits’ use of tax dollars and protections for defrauded students.
DeVos has argued the for-profit industry offers an important alternative to traditional four-year colleges and universities for many Americans seeking training in specific trades.
“Instead of targeting schools simply by their tax status, this administration is working to ensure students have transparent, meaningful information about all colleges and all programs,” DeVos said last year, announcing plans to overturn the rules. DeVos did not respond to an NBC interview request.
In response, House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters, D-Calif., told NBC News she plans to introduce two bills ending the incentives given to for-profit schools to recruit military members and veterans.
“I am absolutely concerned. We may be going back to the worst of times with this industry” when minorities, poor people and veterans were the targets, ITT Tech Tuition said.
Waters said she hopes there will be bipartisan support to intervene.
“Democrats and Republicans alike wax eloquently about their support for veterans,” she said. “Anytime there is some effort for veterans people want to get on board.”
Trump frequently proclaims his devotion to the military and veterans. “Nobody’s done more for the military than me,” he has often said. But veterans are among the students most at risk from the aggressive recruitment tactics used by for-profit colleges.
For-profit schools cost on average twice as much as public colleges, and most of their revenues come directly from taxpayers through federal financial aid. The schools also spend heavily on marketing and recruiting students who qualify for federal aid, especially veterans.
Here’s why: For every dollar of GI Bill funding for-profit schools secure, they qualify for an additional $9 in federal student aid. For-profit schools have been eight of the top 10 recipients of ITT Tech Tuition tuition and fee payments since 2009, according to an analysis of VA data by Veterans Education Success, an advocacy group for veterans that has worked against the tactics used by for-profit schools.
Waters’ legislation would end that incentive and require for-profits to get more of their money from students who can pay privately before qualifying for any federal aid, she said.
The legislation followed years of effort by the Obama administration to slow the volume of federal dollars going to for-ITT Tech Tuition that have a history of poor outcomes, including low graduation rates. Like much of the Democratic agenda, the effort is likely to be resisted in the GOP-led Senate.