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Obama aiming at degree mills
First Lady Michelle Obama and people invited to participate, including Consumer Financial Protection Bureau assistant directlor Holly Petraeus, Army veteran Semaj Grant, military spouse and student Amy Ivey, student and Army Reserve Spc. Melissa Ann Schulte, Fort Stewart Education Services specialists Tina Hysaw and Dorcee Taylor, 1st Sgt. Keven Elwood and Sgt. Johnnie Marshall watch as President Obama signs the executive order. - photo by Danielle Hipps

President Obama signed an executive order Friday on Fort Stewart to crack down on aggressive and deceptive strategies used by for-profit colleges to recruit service members, veterans and their families.

The executive order, which was signed in front of an estimated 10,000 Dog Face soldiers, families, veterans, and civilians will require schools receiving the Post 9/11 GI Bill or other federally funded veterans education benefits to disclose more information to veterans about financial aid options and graduation statistics.

“We’ve got to make sure you’ve got every tool you need to make an informed decision when it comes to picking a school,” the president explained.

The order falls under the president’s “We Can’t Wait” campaign, aimed at improving the economy through executive measures that bypass a Congress gridlocked by partisan politics.

The GI Bill is expected to pay an estimated $9 billion this year on veterans’ education, and Obama said many institutions have stooped to fraud in order to get a bigger piece of the pie.

He described the unscrupulous recruiting strategies of certain schools as “appalling” and “disgraceful,” specifically citing a case where recruiters enrolled Marines with brain injuries in order to receive the funds allotted to them by the GI Bill.

“Every school and every business should be out there competing for your skills and your talent and your leadership — everything that you’ve shown in uniform,” he told soldiers. “But as some of your comrades have discovered, sometimes you’re dealing with folks who aren’t interested in helping you. They’re not interested in helping you find the best program. They are interested in getting the money. They don’t care about you; they care about the cash.”

For-profit colleges can receive as much as 90 percent of their revenue from federally funded financial aid, or more, if they accept the military benefits, which are included in the non-federal 10 percent.

The order also will prohibit schools with histories of fraudulent activity from gaining access to military installations, and it will initiate a process to register GI Bill as a trademark to prevent deceptive marketing campaigns targeting the program’s beneficiaries.

Concern over the for-profit education sector’s treatment of veterans isn’t new. Veterans groups and members of Congress have been pursuing legislative avenues to curb the alleged abuses since a 2010 U.S. Government Accountability Office investigation found that a number of for-profit colleges “encouraged fraud and engaged in deceptive and questionable marketing practices.”

Data compiled by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin’s office showed that for-profit schools, such as the University of Phoenix and DeVry University, received nearly 40 percent of GI Bill money in 2009 and 2010 but educated only 25 percent of veterans.

The study also found that the 15 largest for-profit institutions spent 23 percent of their budgets in 2009 on advertising and marketing campaigns.

The first lady also used Friday’s visit as an opportunity to address education and employment concerns affecting soldiers, veterans and their family members.

She touted Joining Forces, a campaign she started with Jill Biden last year to provide support and opportunities to service members.

“In our first year alone, more than 1,600 businesses hired more than 60,000 veterans, and they pledged to hire at least 170,000 more in the coming years,” she said.

During the visit to Fort Stewart, which marked the last in a week-long series of appearances by the president centered on higher education and financial aid, the Obamas also visited the Warriors Walk memorial and met with local dignitaries.

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