Private Sector Colleges Are Committed to Veterans

By Steve Gunderson

Private sector colleges and universities take great pride in knowing that we provide critical services, flexible schedules, and focused delivery of academic programs to America’s veterans. We believe it is our moral imperative to ensure that our service members and veterans receive the education they deserve and the benefits they earned at every institution of higher education, including career-oriented institutions. Recently, I testified about this very subject before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.

 In my comments, I highlighted the importance of the Post-G.I. Bill and the fact that 152,000 veterans, spouses and dependents have decided to attend private sector institutions using their benefits because our schools have the greatest capacity to meet their educational needs. Veterans are non-traditional students as they are older than the average post-secondary learner, and oftentimes parents, which means they are employed and have family obligations that compete with their education. Therefore, career-oriented schools that have geographic proximity to their home or work, institutional emphasis on the adult-learner, flexible class schedules, and campuses in other states make a lot of sense.

 And we know that private sector colleges and universities have made real, positive differences in people’s lives. For instance, as I stated in my testimony, Sergeant Michael Kidd (USMC) chose to attend ECPI University because it provided him “the flexibility to continue his military service and offered the retraining necessary to pursue a career using computers after suffering debilitating injuries during his deployment in Iraq. Sergeant Kidd has gone from fighting combat threats to learning to fight cyber threats, as part of a [Department of Defense] DoD initiative aimed at getting injured service members back into the military or the civilian workforce … Sergeant Kidd is one example of our nation’s wounded warriors who are making the transition from the battlefield into a non-traditional combat field thanks to the support of a private sector university.” 

Much of the credit for Michael’s success and that of so many others rests with those members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate who supported the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which changed the entire post-secondary landscape of the education of veterans. Since the benefits began in 2009, veteran students have cited the reason for their decision to attend public two-year institutions and private sector colleges and universities and it is the simple fact that these schools have the greatest capacity to meet their educational needs and not for any other reason. 

As educators, we understand the responsibilities associated with providing career training to our nation’s heroes. Therefore, as I testified, “we have been engaged in working with the Subcommittee, and others, to identify and develop protocols that best meet the academic needs of our veterans. On January 31st, APSCU made what some might call a surprising step by joining some our harshest critics on letters to the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees, and the President supporting two very basic, but critical, ideas for veterans: increased educational counseling and a way to have their complaints heard and resolved fairly.”

In support of those tenets, Rep. Gus Bilirakis decided to introduce legislation named the Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2012 (H.R. 4057), which directs the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to “develop a comprehensive policy to improve outreach and transparency to veterans and members of the Armed Forces through the provision of information on institutions of higher learning.”  

I believe we are fortunate to have so many individuals in Congress focused on helping those who have done so much for all of us. In that spirit and as I testified, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU) “remains committed to working with every stakeholder to identify and resolve any problems that might exist” with veterans education. But it is important that the conversation about moving forward is fair and factual. No single action – however misguided – by any single institution of higher education cannot and should not define an entire industry. Furthermore, any school that violates the educational principals we have been entrusted with by our military and veteran students is one too many. 

In conclusion, APSCU is prepared to do the hard work that lies ahead and welcomes anyone, at any time, to join us in continuing thoughtful policy discussions with an end goal of arming our veterans with the resources they need to make the best academic decisions.

 

Steve Gunderson is a former Member of Congress, and president and chief executive officer at the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU).

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