Veterans: Don’t Get Schooled

by Carol Kando-Pineda
Attorney, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) 
This post was originally published October 31, 2013 on the FTC blog

You’ve served the nation and maybe you’re thinking about heading back to school to start the next chapter of your career. Colleges are there to help you, right? Hmm, not so fast. Not every school has got your back.

Some for-profit schools may care more about boosting their bottom line with your VA education benefits. Some may even stretch the truth to persuade you to enroll, either by pressuring you to sign up for courses that don’t suit your needs or to take out loans that will be a challenge to pay off. In 2010, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) said that 70% of the agency’s current fraud investigations were focused on for-profit schools.

Ask some key questions before you make any decisions. Is the school a not-for-profit or for-profit institution? How can you tell? Go to the Department of Education’s (ED) College Navigator and search the school’s name to get this information and other important details about accreditation, average loans taken out, and graduation and default rates. For instance, default rates are important to know because it could be a sign that students at that school took on too much debt and are having trouble finding jobs in their chosen field. A Senate investigation found that students at for-profit colleges on average had lower graduation rates and higher default rates than those enrolled in non-profit institutions.

Find out the total cost and figure out how you will pay. Is there pressure to enroll? Is a recruiter rushing you to commit? Recruiters may be paid based on how many students they bring in. Before you decide on a program, read the materials, including the contract. Can you cancel within a few days of signing up and, if so, do they tell you how to cancel? If the school refuses to give you documents to review before you commit, don’t enroll. Period.

And know that just because a program is labeled “for military” or “veteran-friendly” doesn’t necessarily mean it is. Check into whether there’s access to academic and career support for veterans. What about mental health, disability and medical services, and housing options?

As you look for a school that’s right for you, learn more about avoiding some big pitfalls.

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