Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Starting Over: After the Abrupt Closure of the ITT Technical Institute Last Month, the State of Some Veteran Students' Education, Many of Whom Cannot Have Their GI Benefits Restored, Remains Unclear

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Starting Over: After the Abrupt Closure of the ITT Technical Institute Last Month, the State of Some Veteran Students' Education, Many of Whom Cannot Have Their GI Benefits Restored, Remains Unclear

Article excerpt

When word came that ITT Technical Institute--a chain of for-profit career colleges accused of engaging in fraudulent practices--had abruptly closed its doors last month, Matthew Jackson, a military veteran, went looking for answers.

"I enrolled in school using my VA education benefits," says Jackson, 47, who was enlisted in the Army and served his country for nearly two decades before deciding to return to school in 2013. "Right now, things have been stalled and no one is providing many answers on how vets like me can recoup our damages and continue on with our college education."

Unlike many other students who became eligible for federal student-loan forgiveness as a result of ITT Tech's deceptive practices, Jackson hasn't taken out any personal loans. His tuition and housing allowance are made possible through the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), and are subject to a separate set of regulatory and financial constraints.

Jackson, however, does not want the VA to penalize his benefits for the time that he spent at ITT Tech, which was forced to shut its doors after it was accused of pressuring students to take out predatory loans and spending too much money on marketing. The U.S. Department of Education has said that it will help students transfer existing credits or get the loans for ITT Tech classes wiped clean from their records.

Vets' education questionable

But the plight of veterans, about 7,000 of whom were attending ITT Tech classes, remains a bit unclear, according to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who has been pushing legislation that he says will bring about "much-needed relief" to veterans who were exploited by the for-profit giant.

For now, the veterans and their families who attended an ITT Tech school using the GI Bill cannot have their GI benefits restored. But Brown wants to change that.

"It's just not fair to them. ITT Tech betrayed these students and our taxpayers" says Brown, who was unsuccessful in getting fellow lawmakers to move forward with a bill in September to create a remedy. "I just don't think we should ever leave this place treating a veteran worse than a non-veteran."

Rep. Thorn Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, says that he remains wary of supporting a policy "that we haven't taken the time to make a decision about how to pay for it."

Meanwhile, the American Legion--the largest wartime veterans organization with 2.2 million members in more than 13,000 posts across the nation--says that it has begun supporting federal efforts to assist student veterans who were impacted by the closure of ITT Tech by providing educational counseling through its service officer network.

"We are deeply troubled by ITT Tech's abrupt closing and the blockade it has placed in front of veterans seeking higher education," says American Legion Commander Charles E. Schmidt.

In the aftermath of ITT Tech's shutdown, more than 40,000 students were summarily bereft of their school and left with potentially unusable credits. The closure of all 136 ITT Tech campuses occurred practically overnight, almost at the beginning of the semester.

Finding a solution

While the school's closure has been disruptive to students' lives and plans, many ITT Tech students have already appealed to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) for redress. ED is encouraging institutions to reach out to former ITT Tech students, and colleges and universities are acting quickly in response. Institutions across the country have announced plans to host open houses and informational fairs where students can receive on-the-spot assistance in transferring to the institution.

ED has also hosted informational webinars for displaced students throughout September. A directory compiled by Chegg, a California-based online textbook retailer, shows a state-by-state list of institutions willing to accept ITT Tech credits. …

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