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Proceed with care


A for-profit college’s local recruiting event is billed as an information session for unemployed veterans, with an opportunity to meet Democratic Mayor Tom Henry and Republican Congressman Marlin Stutzman.

But veterans groups are issuing warnings that GI Bill benefits have become an attractive target for for-profit colleges and that veterans should be wary.

A spokesman for the mayor now says Henry won’t attend, but Stutzman’s office confirmed he would participate. The congressman should be careful before signing on to any particular recruiting effort, especially if a for-profit college is involved.

National College, based in Roanoke, Va., is promoting a Wednesday event for veterans to hear about the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, with an opportunity to meet the mayor and congressman. “Photos will be taken,” according to a flier for the event, and tours of the North Clinton Street campus and meetings with admissions representatives will be available.

Kentucky’s attorney general, Jack Conway, sued National College a year ago, alleging that its Kentucky campuses engaged in false, misleading and deceptive disclosures about the rate at which its students were able to find jobs. A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office said a judge rejected National College’s efforts to seal the lawsuit proceedings from the public. A ruling in the attorney general’s complaint is pending.

A congressional investigation of for-profit colleges gave much attention to the institutions’ recruiting practices aimed at veterans. But National College was not among the schools singled out in the inquiry, led by Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin.

A scheduler for Stutzman confirmed the congressman plans to attend. In response to a question about recruiting, spokesman James Wegmann provided Stutzman’s May remarks to a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs meeting in which he called for the subcommittee to ensure coordinated efforts by organizations offering oversight of veteran education benefits.

The largest share of military education benefits goes to for-profit schools, according to the Senate report: 37 percent of GI Bill benefits and 50 percent of Department of Defense Tuition Assistance. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has started a campaign to educate its members.

“IAVA refuses to allow predatory for-profit colleges to gouge the New GI Bill and pad their pockets at the expense of our nation’s veterans,” IAVA Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff said in a news release.

But the sharpest criticism of veteran recruiting practices has come from Holly Petraeus, wife of retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, now the director of central intelligence.

Holly Petraeus, as assistant director for service member affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, singled out the federal “90-10 rule” in the Higher Education Act as a problem because it allows for-profit schools an exemption for federal student aid restrictions.

“This gives for-profit colleges an incentive to see service members as nothing more than dollar signs in uniform, and to use aggressive marketing to draw them in and take out private loans, which students often need because the federal grants are insufficient to cover the full cost of tuition and related expenses,” she wrote in a New York Times op-ed last year.

A call to the local National College campus about Wednesday’s event was referred to the college’s Virginia headquarters. Chuck Steenburgh, the company’s vice president for communications, called Holly Petraeus’ comments “uninformed and incendiary.”

“Among veteran students at National College, we have retention and in-field placement rates of about 70 percent – compare that to any public two-year college,” he wrote in an email. “They can’t tell you what their placement rate is, because they don’t track it for every single graduate as we are required to do by our accreditor. I’m not aware of any two-year public institution with retention rates that even approach 70 percent.”

Congressman Stutzman deserves credit for supporting veterans. But his presence at Wednesday’s event looks like more of an endorsement of National College than a message to veterans to thoroughly review their options before signing on with a for-profit school.