Military veterans attend a job fair

In 2008, Congress passed a new GI Bill that, for the first time since World War II, promised to pay the full cost of a college education for veterans. But a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting finds that more than $600 million of that money has been spent on California schools that have graduation rates so low, or loan-default rates so high, that they don’t meet state standards for aid. The report contends that the GI Bill is pouring money into for-profit colleges that often leave veterans with worthless degrees and few job prospects.

Aaron Glantz, veterans reporter at The Center for Investigative Reporting and author of "The War Comes Home: Washington's Battle Against America's Veterans"
Keith Boylan, deputy secretary of veteran services for the California Department of Veteran Affairs
Mark Brenner, chief of staff at the Apollo Education Group, the parent company of University of Phoenix

  • ES Trader

    for profit education business,,,,,,what/is it essentially lowering the bar/bridge ? Did it simply attract too many that were not college material ?

    • Lance

      The simple answer is yes, many are not ready for college when leaving the service.

      One could also ask how this situation isn’t considered predatory, when the for profit schools know the people they convince are not going to complete the degree.

      • ES Trader

        Good intentions are always preyed upon by predators but the “prey” left themselves open for disappointment too because they saw a short cut to a degree and ticket to middle class that they did not prepare themselves for in public education.

        Simple supply/demand curve says price falls when supply increases so if “free” public education were non-existent, would not parents value public education more and do a better job of getting their kids educated ?

  • Another Mike

    Many vets intend to use the GI Bill to learn a trade with which they can support themselves. After World War II, my father used the GI Bill to go to lens grinding school, figuring people would always need eyeglasses. This was a for-profit school.

    Unfortunately, Bay Area community colleges offer few career-oriented programs, a void filled by for-profit schools. A friend of mine went to Heald College in the 1980s, and had a good electronics technician job after that 19 month program.

    But under current ownership, apparently the Heald College of today is not like the Heald College of the 1980s.

  • Ben Rawner

    I remember when I took distance learning classes in 2002 in junior college, my teachers pointed out that only 33% would finish the online class. Learning takes place in classrooms and is aided by being near other learning students. My question is why doesn’t the government create incentives to only go to public schools because the public is paying for this with our taxes.

  • Cody Landwehr

    Finding waste in education isn’t inherently bad, as we find waste in every large program. At least we’re spending it on education and not on immoral, violent wars.

    Yet, rest assured that the University of Phoenix provides very little value. As a hiring manager, I see these degrees as worthless. They are preying on false hope they advertise to veterans. It’s wasting the time and money of the student, and they would be better off surfing wikipedia & Kahn Academy, and doing side projects to develop skills and show a portfolio, which hiring managers value more than these poor certificates.

    • Liz

      Why is worthless? Its it because of your bias against it or do the employees not have the skills required? You need to explain a little more before you make such a blanket statement.

      • Cody Landwehr

        Of course I see many other factors in their performance and history than just a degree. After hiring & managing hundreds of workers in the last 20 years, I find that education is what you make of it.

        Although I’ve seen some “bums” from highly reputable schools, the rate of “bums” from the diploma mills is higher.

        But, it’s nowhere near 100% correlation. At an individual level, I’d have to judge them personally using data other than the degree, as any one person can vary from that background statistic. At an aggregate level, the data shows it’s not as valuable to get the diploma mill degree.

        • Dr HR

          I agree with Liz. You seem to have made up your mind and not even considered that University of Phoenix is an accredited university.

          • Ridly Lee

            Just because people work hard, doesn’t mean they are effective. Often those that are most effective & efficient, by nature, accomplish more with less time & better quality. That’s what skills do. So, good for the hard working teachers, but if the quality of the education isn’t good, then the hard work is not “great” just because it’s hard work folks.

            There are many, many ways to learn. Paying the University of Phoenix to learn is one way, sure, but not the best way. They spend tons on marketing, & lobbying. Yes, they take in many people who could not get accepted into better institutions, so that means they are helping, perhaps. But it also means that their curriculum must be watered down to possibly serve those less qualified students.

            I had one employee take a University of Phoenix MBA program, and graduated from it. The company paid for the EE costs, our tax dollars paid for the rest. The employee showed zero, I mean zero improvements in performance, business acumen, or project management skills, and was let go a year later along with other poor performers in a downturn. The employee could’ve learned more in other ways, but was taken in by the marketing.

          • Dr HR

            Have you ever researched the curriculum at the University of Phoenix? I mean, really examined the courses, the assignments and rubrics that are used to evaluate the students. With respect to your employee, I can only say that a college degree, regardless of where it is obtained cannot guarantee an “improvement in performance.” That sounds like a management problem.

    • Theodora B Crawford

      One of the best for on-line education today! And, it is free! Just commit!

      “Our mission to provide a world-class education for anyone, anywhere. All Khan Academy content is available for free at” Check it out!

    • Dr HR

      Your comments are really uninformed and quite condescending. The faculty and students at the University of Phoenix work very hard and the doctoral students are doing cutting-edge research that holds up against the other schools that you seem to hold in such high esteem.

  • oldmanmike

    All I hear from the Mr Brenner is double talk. I question why this interview is even being aired. The facts speak for themselves, we as taxpayers are being riped off. Correct it!

    • Cody Landwehr

      It’s nice to hear him. That way, we know that it’s really indefensible. If he wasn’t here offering the official defense, we might think it’s valid but unrepresented.

  • Curtis S

    Do for-profit schools, such as University of Phoenix, keep data on how GI student loan funds are used and can they share that data? For example, % for tuition, living expenses, books, other expenditures.

  • Liz

    When I went back to school, not a lot of local colleges were doing online classes or the classes offered were not what I needed to I did go to a private college because of the flexibility it offered. I didn’t work for me to go to school 4 nights a week and work full time. It is not always the cost that decides whether to choose a local college or a private college with online classes. The traditional school model doesn’t work for everyone. Public colleges are getting better but they have a ways to go. You have to do your homework but you can find good schools out there. Private colleges are not all bad, they can offer an alternative to students who need a non-traditional school environment.

  • disqus_63X8zNMKNl

    Does anyone listening to Brenner’s defense of U. of Phoenix believe that he and his employers have any interests at all other than taking in as much money, by any means, as they can? Even caught out in lies, such as his lie about the cost per unit at U of P, Brenner seems not to be at all chagrined. Boylan is, if anything, more equivocating than Brenner…all these non-answers, self-serving answers, outright lies are just appalling–and utterly obvious. Congratulations and best of luck to Glantz, and shame on Boylan, Brenner and the University of Phoenix.

    • Cody Landwehr

      Yes, the defense is mostly adjectives, and not data. Things like, “we serve veterans” versus “we profit from the false hopes we advertise”.

      • disqus_63X8zNMKNl

        Well put!

    • Dr HR

      And all the faculty who stay up late at night after working our full time jobs, and working weekends reading papers and speaking with students who may be struggling and who have to take red eye flights back from doctoral residencies were just slapped in the face by your uninformed comments. And those students who are working hard to learn and meet my high standards while working at full time jobs and caring for minor children were also slapped by your ignorance. You don’t really know what you are talking about.

      • sftitan

        Please… as a people manager myself, if I see University of Phoenix on their resume I just toss it. My advise to you is go teach at a real school. Like a grade school or high school.

        • Dr HR

          As a certified HR professional with 20 years experience, I encourage “people managers” to resist making a hiring decision solely based on one element of someone’s resume. What school someone attends is not the final indication of their skills and abilities. Any credible “people manager” would certainly know that a resume is just one part of a thorough recruiting process. A person’s actual skills and experience are more predictive of future success on the job. Perhaps you should consider a career change yourself.

      • disqus_63X8zNMKNl

        Having taught graduate students at a university for 6 years–and voted best professor each semester–I think I do know what I’m talking about. Having been a graduate student while holding down a job and being a single mother, I think do know what I’m talking about. My remarks were clearly and specifically about the U. of Phoenix, not adult college students who are earning advanced degrees at accredited colleges and universities.


    I don’t want to validate University of Phoenix, however these issues apply to ALL schools. How many students graduate/complete, how many actually find jobs, and compare that to vets, especially ALL students who have similar demographics as Vets along with life circumstances such as having a family and full-time job while attending school.

    • disqus_63X8zNMKNl

      Good question. What percentage of students who enter college, 2 or 4-year colleges, actually do graduate? I expect it is a higher percent than University of Phoenix, but it would be important to know, in order to make a judgment. I think, though, that it is important to remember that the issue is whether or not tax dollars should be spent on substandard schooling, degrees from which are not valued, much less even completed most of the time. I think the U.S. owes all sorts of help to people who have served in the military, it’s just that when a school like U of P, which spends a fortune on advertising, recruiting, and lobbying, and offers ridiculous “majors” such as sexology, is getting such vast sums of money, this is not helping veterans. It is lining the pockets of a huge corporation.

      • Dr HR

        You’re just making this stuff up. There is no major called “sexology” at the University of Phoenix. I think you are ridiculous.

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Our returning military deserve better than to be taken advantage of and we the taxpayers should insist things change. Are these for profit shams bribing congress in order to get away with this nonsense? If its isn’t the horrid VA medical/hospitals its the for profit ‘college’ shams that are abusing and using our men and women who have served this nation.

  • Chris OConnell

    Aaron Glantz has been doing some incredible reporting over the past couple of years (and probably longer).

  • logicalcat

    I served as a Docent for the Denver Public Library about 3 years ago. University of Phoenix would routinely send their students–some former military, some with obvious learning disabilities–to the Library’s technology center for training. Their own lab was closed after 5:00pm and not open on weekends.

  • Todd

    Some like me took classes while in active duty knowing I was going to finish at a brick and mortar university. I looked for accreditation to ensure the credits would transfer. That would certainly mess up the graduation rate.

  • Roy Hagar

    I also have 2 very good friends who served as paid evaluators in the U of Phoenix education credentialing program–it is a vastly inferior jury-rigged, fly by the seat of the pants arrangement. Evaluators rarely see students….very little actual supervision. Who’s kidding whom? U of Phoenix’s primary goal is to produce handsome corportate profits, largely from tax-supported programs like the GI Bill and US govt-subsidized student loans. Students can usually find far superior programs costing 10 cents on the dollar spent at U of Phoenix simply by checking vocational offerings at local publicly funded community colleges. The fact that these institution exist at all is just another example of regulatory capture the various state and federal agencies charged with setting and enforcing standards for schools. It’s shameful.

  • Theodora B Crawford

    Tuned in late but found immense irony that City College of San Francisco struggling with threats to accreditation reputedly offers one of the best programs for vets in the nation! “Follow the money” a basis for all investigative reporting; This lead should be followed with far more vigor!

    • Frequentshopper

      Care to back up that meaningless “reputedly” with some job data? CCSF and all colleges, whether for or non profit should have to keep records and report graduation and employment outcomes. Community college students deserve protection and transparency too, especially from tenured teachers. I found all 5 departments I took classes in at CCSF to be disconnected from any knowledge of the job market. Ignorance is bliss there. If they don’t know the classes you are taking won’t help you get a job they sure won’t have to tell you. The BEMA department takes tuition money up front for the required internship credits from students before they get an internship and does not refund it if you don’t get one, and if you are not a lesbian they won’t help you get one much less hire you for the ones they offer.

  • amyj1276

    I was an adjunct professor at a for-profit university in Alameda for 7 years and can attest to the low quality of students. The university was clearly accepting just about anyone and everyone because it’s focus was on profit. At least two-thirds of my graduate-level students couldn’t write a coherent sentence. Most had no idea what the difference was between an editorial and a peer-reviewed journal article. There were very little critical thinking abilities. A caller or someone mentioned that vets and other adults may not want to
    go through the remedial education necessary in other schools, but
    there’s a reason this remedial education is so important! On top of that, the national HQ of the university started dictating what books we could use and the curricula itself, which is highly unethical. In one class the HQ decided that I should be using a book that had about 3 paragraphs that were relevant to the class (but that was much more expensive and revised every year) instead of the book I had been using for years that was extremely relevant and that the students could buy used. I personally would be very reluctant to hire anyone from a for-profit school where students are essentially buying diplomas. As long as this country is so hell-bent on putting profits before people and privatizing everything, there should be varying levels of accreditation for the different types of educational institutions. And government subsidies, especially in the form of grants and GI benefits, should go only toward those public institutions that have a certain level of accreditation.

    • Dr HR

      Really? “low quality of students”. If someone is struggling, isn’t it part of the role of the faculty to encourage and offer support for their learning. I do agree that schools should be accredited, but there is so much virulence in most of the comments here against a school that is accredited.

      • amyj1276

        There’s a difference between low-quality students who just want a passing grade to get the degree regardless of actually learning anything and struggling students who make an effort to learn. Clearly accreditation alone doesn’t make a for-profit school interested in anything other than profit.

        • Dr HR

          Using the term “low quality students” is highly offensive. People are not “low quality” or “high quality” for that matter. There are numerous studies that indicate when someone is given supportive coaching where someone believes that they can succeed they frequently do succeed. Non-profit schools have to do considerable marketing and fund raising in order to provide the education that appears to be superior to many people on this forum. For the most part, they are not giving the education away for free. And their accreditation is not superior to a for-profit school just because they are not-for profit.

  • Katherine Ryan

    U of Phoenix opened the door for the “Corinthian colleges”. They lobbied for the ability to funnel government loans to for profit schools. When people paid out of pocket for tech schools in the past, the costs were lower and the education had to be legitimate, or the consumer moved on. I am a retired dental hygienist and am appalled at the young women who were lured in to huge debt by substandard health education programs promising careers in health care. I worked with interns from these schools who would never have been hired. There was no screening in accepting these students in to these programs. There was no criteria them graduating to prepare them for real jobs. And the going rate for these jobs is low. They were lied to about the jobs.

  • Katherine Ryan

    I took an online class from U of Phoenix to satisfy a 3 hour pre-req. to apply to another program. It cost $1500 and I did all of the work at home alone. It was ok for that 1 requirement, but did not teach me anything I would use again or train me for a job. I just wanted the credits quickly to apply to something else.

  • Larissa Acosta

    For every account there is in this discussion thread about how UoPX degrees offer no value, I have as many personal experiences of meeting UoPX students and alumni who improved their lives and career opportunities with a UoPX degree, so would not be that quick to judge the value that their education provides. I have a relative who went to a private very highly regarded liberal arts school – incurring over $70,000 in student loans. She now works as a waitress in Manhattan, so why is that debt any better?

    • Dr HR

      Thank you, Larissa. I have mentored numerous students who have gained tremendously in their careers and in their lives. It really is what someone does with the education they have gained that really matters.

  • David

    I’m seeing lots of criticism of the for-profit diploma mills, but not much attention to what might be an underlying cause for their proliferation – the lack of access to quality higher education, or other technical training leading to solid careers in services, trades, and technology. We should be expanding the capacity and lowering the costs in the Cal State and UC systems. That would be quite a fiscal challenge in the short term, but I think in the long term, such an investment in education would pay off. There are countries that cover the cost of higher education for everyone. In some countries, students even receive a stipend to cover living expenses while they’re in school. I don’t foresee that here, but we are way off at the other end of the spectrum, limiting access to education and expecting many people to take on debts to acquire it.

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