I would like to offer my fellow soldiers this cautionary tale, and truly hope other service members are able to learn from my experience.
When I returned from active duty in Iraq, I planned to use my Post-9/11 GI Bill to get an education and begin a career in law enforcement. My plans seemed hopeful as I enrolled in a college that offered the flexible schedule I needed and promised a solid education leading to a great career.
After studying for three full semesters in their criminal justice program, I discovered that my degree was not properly accredited and would not lead to a career in law enforcement. I also learned that the credits would not transfer to a properly accredited school. At this point, I had used up my GI Bill benefits and was saddled with $50,000 in student loan debt for a worthless degree.
I take responsibility for not doing my homework and learning more about this school before I enrolled. However, the claims made by the school were extremely misleading, and far from accurate. The most disappointing aspect of my whole experience has been the realization that many other veterans have also been deceived, and most veterans like myself don’t know what questions to ask to avoid such deception. So be aware, not all “colleges” are created equal. I wish I had looked at all my options, especially low-cost community colleges and state universities that are properly accredited.
The moral of my story: Take charge of your education by learning as much as you can about the college or technical training school you’re interested in BEFORE you enroll. Take action if you have been ripped off. And, keep in mind that you are not alone.
If you were deceived like I was, there is help available:
- VA and DOD have a new student complaint system, and the VA is required to act on each complaint. Veterans are reporting that they are getting immediate help from VA, and law enforcement offices are already starting to sue schools for deceiving veterans. File a complaint. Protect your buddies by letting VA know who the bad actors are:
- The VA site for GI Bill recipients is www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/feedback.asp
- The DOD site for students who used Tuition Assistance and Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) is www.militaryonesource.mil/voluntary-education/complaint
- You may be eligible for up to $5,000 to help pay off your loans from a fund set up by veterans for veterans who were deceived by a for-profit college: Apply to the Veterans’ Student Loan Relief Fund: www.IAVA.org/loan-relief
If you are choosing a college, there are resources available:
- The U.S. Federal Trade Commission recently put out new advice, “8 Questions to Ask When Choosing a College After Military Service,” which includes questions I wish I had asked: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0395-choosing-college.
- The VA now has a new online GI Bill college comparison tool that tells you key information about each college, including whether it is for-profit and what the success rates are for students: http://benefits.va.gov/gibill/comparison/.
- US News & World Report ranks the “Best Colleges for Veterans” (http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/rankings/nat...), and the “Best Online Colleges” (http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/bachelors/rankings).
The author is Mae McGarry, an Iraq war veteran, who is one of 15 recipients of a $5,000 grant from the Veterans’ Student Loan Relief Fund (VSLRF). The Fund provides grants of up to $5,000 to assist veterans and qualifying family members who incurred excessive education loans to attend for-profit colleges. McGarry lives in Erie, PA, with her husband and three children and is slowly paying off her debt and studying part-time at St. Leo University, a private, nonprofit college.