By Bob Hildreth
Veterans are one of the least known demographics suffering under the weight of student loans. Poor data collection coupled with the myth that the Post-GI Bill adequately covers college costs are to blame. A decade in which benefits have increased by 300% have proven insufficient to keep veterans out of debt, default, and lack of degree attainment.
Estimates show that, in 2012, 41 percent of veterans borrowed about $26,000 for their college education. What makes this statistic more problematic is that a majority of veterans attend low-performing schools (see below graph) and have low graduation rates, which all contribute to their inability to repay their debt.
Our traditional higher education institutions have been unable to provide programs that fit Veterans’ needs or schedules. Veterans are mostly adult learners with jobs and/or families. Attracted by the federal dollars they bring with the generous post-GI bill, for-profit colleges have quickly filled the gap and are known to lead aggressive and sometimes deceptive recruitment tactics that target Veterans specifically. More interested in the revenue they generate and less with the education they provide, these schools are known to have low graduation rates and worthless degrees. Data show that 41 percent of Post-9/11 Veterans Benefits went to students in the for-profit sector.
With no or low-quality degrees, veterans are struggling with their student loans. Data shows that only 50 percent of Veterans are paying their debt on time. For those who attended for profit schools, 33 percent have defaulted.
What can be done? States should provide incentives for colleges to offer loan free packages to Veterans. At the Federal level, the government should convert any borrowing requirement under FASFA to a grant for veterans. Regardless of their time served, all soldiers should be eligible for full GI Bill education benefits. We owe it to our veterans who sacrificed in service to our nation!