The Department of Veterans Affairs is suspending GI Bill benefits for five universities after discovering “deceptive” and “misleading” enrollment practices.
The University of Phoenix, Colorado Technical University, American InterContinental University, Bellevue University and Temple University all “have utilized advertising, sales or enrollment practices which are erroneous, deceptive or misleading” in violation of the law, VA officials wrote to lawmakers in an email obtained by Connecting Vets.
VA notified the schools Monday that it intends to suspend program approvals and payment of the GI Bill “for the education and training of new veterans” and others eligible to use GI Bill funds.
VA officials said specifically that benefits will be suspended for “the enrollment of new students in all programs” both online and in-person as of Monday, “unless the schools can provide contrary evidence to refute” VA's conclusion based on findings of the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general.
There are more than 16,000 GI Bill students enrolled across the five universities and campuses between Aug. 1, 2019 and Feb. 20, 2020, VA spokeswoman Randal Noller told Connecting Vets.
The proposed suspension will not affect current student veterans, service members and others using the GI Bill who “maintain continuous enrollment” but the schools may be prevented from submitting enrollment certifications for students who are returning from a break in attendance during the suspension, according to VA.
VA said that while current students may not be affected by its decision, state approving agencies responsible for approving courses at the schools “may also take independent action based on VA’s decision” which could affect current students.
“VA will take appropriate actions to keep beneficiaries informed of any developments that would impact them,” the department said in a statement Monday.
“Our aim in taking this action is to protect Veterans and their dependents GI Bill benefits and to comply with the law, but we understand that this decision may cause disruption and hardship to students using their GI Bill benefits at the schools listed above,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “VA has not taken corrective action against these schools lightly and are committed to help beneficiaries avoid or mitigate any negative consequences that may result.”
VA did not immediately respond to requests for information on how many students would be affected, or the specific reasons each university was suspended.
Any GI Bill students affected by these actions can contact the VA Education Call Center at 888-442-4551 between 7 a.m. - 6 p.m. Central Time, Monday-Friday or go to https://gibill.custhelp.va.gov/ to submit any questions they may have.
Student Veterans of America announced Monday that it was “closely monitoring” the impact of the VA’s decision.
SVA said it planned to reach out to its university chapters to assist, and student veterans could get help by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We’re grateful VA intends to suspend enrollment of new GI Bill students at these institutions," Carrie Wofford, Veterans Education Success president, said in a statement. "This sends a powerful message, one we’ve been advocating for VA to exercise since 2012, that the federal government and taxpayers will no longer tolerate schools that seek to defraud veterans and other military-connected students out of their hard-earned federal education benefits."
Any student who needs help is can contact Veterans Education Success by calling 202-838-5050 or email Help@vetsedsuccess.org.
Wilkie cited different reasons for suspending GI Bill funds for each university.
For the University of Phoenix, he said the FTC alleged the university and its parent company "used deceptive advertisements that falsely touted their relationship and job opportunities with companies such as AT&T, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter and the American Red Cross ... giving the false impression that UoP worked with those companies to create job opportunities for its students and tailored curriculum for such jobs, leading students to believe the companies had worked with the university" even though those companies "were not partnered with the university."
At Temple, Wilkie cited the lawsuit Smtih v. Temple University, which alleged the university "made false, deceptive and misleading statements to US News and World Report regarding the ranking of its online masters of business administration program" among other programs, which may have harmed students.
For Bellevue, Wlkie cited a complaint filed by the Nebraska State Attorney general that alleged the university "made false, deceptive and misleading statements to prospective and current students" about the accreditation status and value of several of its programs. One of those programs, the registered nurse to bachelor of nursing science program, allegedly was not accredited before 2017. The university allegedly advertised that it was in the process of being accredited, even before it had applied for accreditation.
For Colorado Tech and American InterContinental, both operated by Career Education Corp., Wilkie said the FTC found CEC "used illegal and deceptive telemarketing schemes to lure consumers to their post-secondary and vocational schools" and "falsely told consumers they were affiliated with or recommended by the U.S. military." CEC and its partners also allegedly violated telemarketing regulations "by harassing consumers registered on the National Do Not Call Registry," Wilkie said.
CEC also allegedly "deceived students about the total costs of enrollment" and "misled students about the transferability of credits," among other accusations.