Change of Heart on For-Profits
The former head of Student Veterans of America, who previously criticized some for-profit colleges, is now working for the trade association that represents those institutions -- a move that has riled some veterans’ advocates and illustrates the high-stakes battle the industry is facing when it comes to veterans' education.
The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the main group that lobbies in Washington on behalf of for-profit institutions, announced this week that it had hired Michael Dakduk as its vice president for military and veterans affairs, a newly created position. Dakduk previously served as the executive director of Student Veterans of America, a nonprofit organization with more than 900 chapter affiliates.
Under his leadership over the past several years, SVA tangled with the for-profit industry on several occasions. For instance, the national organization in 2012 suspended 40 of its chapters at for-profit colleges for improperly promoting the universities and not being sufficiently student-run.
Dakduk's move to APSCU comes as veterans' issues at for-profit colleges are once again heating up on Capitol Hill. And just in his first week, Dakduk found himself in the position of lobbying against policies he promoted in his previous capacity at the veterans' advocacy group.
On Wednesday, for example, a handful of Democratic senators who have been vocal critics of for-profit colleges reintroduced legislation that would tighten the so-called “90/10 rule” that applies to for-profit institutions. That law caps colleges’ receipt of federal student aid money at 90 percent of their total revenue. But federal educational benefits for veterans and active-duty service members don’t count toward the limit.
Dakduk, in 2012, referred to that exception in the 90/10 law as a “loophole” that needed to be closed.
“By not counting military tuition assistance and GI Bill benefits in the equation, some for-profit institutions are using the loophole to aggressively and deceptively recruit veterans,” he said in a statement, echoing the language that critics of for-profit colleges have used in describing the rule. Those critics argue that the current 90/10 law leaves a perverse incentive for for-profit schools to aggressively recruit veterans, since every dollar in veterans' benefits that a school receives effectively raises, by nine dollars, its ability to accept other forms of federal student aid, such as Pell grants or government loans.
Testifying before Congress in 2012, Dakduk also pushed for legislation that would tighten the 90/10 rule.
“Quite frankly any business that complains about having to compete for 10 percent of their customers should not be in business,” he said in written testimony to the House veterans' committee.
This week, though, Dakduk said in a statement released by APSCU that the renewed effort to tighten the 90/10 rule would “harm postsecondary access and opportunity” for veterans and active duty service members.
“The 90/10 rule is not a measure of institutional quality,” he said. “It is a measure of the socioeconomic position of the student population served.”
For APSCU, the hiring of Dakduk gives the organization a boost on veterans' issues at its institutions, which are increasingly under scrutiny from lawmakers, state attorneys general, and some veterans and consumer advocacy groups. At stake for the industry is a huge market of veterans and active-duty service members, who are turning to higher education as they return home from two wars.
The industry group has taken steps in recent months to be more aggressive about self-regulation and to focus on best practices among its institutions. APSCU, for instance, convened a blue ribbon taskforce -- on which Dakduk served as a special adviser -- to develop recommendations on how to best serve veterans at for-profit colleges.
Dakduk said in an email that he chose to join APSCU because he believes its members “play a critical role in the transition of service members into postsecondary education and ultimately onto career pathways.”
“I found in my previous career that it is too easy for people to be critics,” he added. “Anybody can talk about problems; what I am focused on is rolling up my sleeves and working with people on the frontlines of education to address the challenges our service members and veterans may face.”
Still, news of Dakduk’s departure to APSCU was greeted with disappointment by some in the veterans advocacy community, according to Ted Daywalt, the president of VetJobs, another advocacy groups. The leaders of several other groups expressed similar feelings but declined to speak publicly.
“I know that his decision is very disappointing to many people in the veteran community," Daywalt said. "Because some people see the organization he is joining as not having had the concern they should for the way the predatory for-profits have been taking advantage of and ripping off veterans."
“However," he continued, "I hope he will use his new position coupled with his understanding of the problems that veterans and their families have had with predatory for-profit schools, to educate the predatory for-profit schools to change their ways.”
Dakduk's successor at Students Veterans of America, D. Wayne Robinson, said in an interview Thursday that the organization would continue pushing for stricter rules on for-profit colleges, such as tightening the 90/10 law. But he said he also wanted the group to take a balanced approach to the issue.
“We’re very hesitant to paint the entire industry with a broad stroke," he said. "But I certainly want to use our voice and advocacy on behalf of veterans that have been preyed upon.”