Weighing For-Profits' Access to Military Bases

Legislators, veterans groups and for-profit colleges wrangle over details of an amendment that would expand for-profit colleges' access to students on military bases.

June 3, 2016

Nine states are now opposing an amendment the U.S. Congress is considering that would open up for-profit colleges' access to military bases.

The amendment, proposed by West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, in the U.S. Senate's version of the National Defense Authorization Act would expand for-profits' opportunities to recruit and advise students on bases. Critics say the amendment also would undercut a U.S. Department of Defense memorandum of understanding that defines which institutions are allowed on bases.

For example, in a statement released Thursday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris said, "Predatory schemes targeting veterans are unconscionable. The proposed amendment would weaken current rules intended to protect our service members and harm veterans by making them vulnerable to fraud and exploitation. We must protect our nation's veterans and service members from predators who would exploit them for their educational benefits."

Harris and the attorneys general from Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania have now joined more than 20 military and veterans' groups and some Senate Democrats in opposing the amendment.

Manchin, however, has defended it, arguing that the amendment removes restrictions and allows military post commanders to grant the access they see fit, and to provide more education to service members.

Some for-profit colleges feel the Pentagon's memorandum of understanding has restricted access for the sector on military bases, and that the Manchin amendment would restore the level of access that existed before the MOU.

But some advocates for veterans say they don't see anything wrong with the current process.

"There's no evidence that there's any problem with the Defense Department's MOU rules," said Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success, a nonprofit organization. "Why would Congress want to override these rules? DOD is saying students aren't complaining and access is sufficient."

An executive order by President Obama in 2012 set up the current Pentagon rules regulating for-profit access to military bases. They give access to all colleges as long as they obtain permission, don't engage in aggressive marketing and don't practice deceptive recruiting.

Wofford said the amendment is about prioritizing the wishes of a private company over the needs of the military and service members.

Politico reported Wednesday evening that Senate Democrats had reached a compromise on the amendment, which would seek to ensure that military commanders maintain control over the institutions that enter their bases, and that the proportion of advisers allowed on a base wouldn't give larger for-profits a competitive advantage over smaller institutions.

The offices of Manchin and Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and critic of for-profits, did not return requests for comment on the reported compromise.

The American Public University System, a for-profit based in Manchin's home state of West Virginia, which operates the online-based American Military University and American Public University, has a sizable population of service-member students, and could benefit from the access.

APUS enrolls more than 57,000 students. In 2013, nearly 22,000 of those students received tuition assistance from the Pentagon, and about 8,300 of the system's students received Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits in 2013, according to federal data.

A representative from APUS declined to discuss the amendment at this point, saying that the situation is evolving.


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