IAVA | April 16, 2020
Read: My Experience with a Predatory School and How the 90/10 Loophole Hurts Veterans
Submitted by: Cinthya Fana
I had never heard of predatory schools until the day I received a notification on my credit report that I was extremely late in making payments on a debt I had no idea I had. My credit report said I owed $3,500 in student loan debt for attending a school I have never attended! Once I called the credit bureaus, they told me to contact the school and get more information from them. I contacted the school, and they told me that I was enrolled in the school and had received financial aid money and $3,500 in student loans, but I had never attended classes. So I was failing the classes as well! What!?
I knew at that point that someone had stolen my identity, and the school had enrolled someone under my name and social security number without doing any due diligence. Later I learned that this school was considered a “predatory” school due to their pursuit of veterans for their G.I. Bill tuition funding.
I was in the Army when this happened to me back in 2013. The first thing I thought of doing was to contact the military police, but because it was a “cyber crime”, there was nothing they could do other than file a report for my records. I called the local police as well, and they told me that, because I lived on base, they didn’t have jurisdiction over my case. I was being sent in circles.
Regardless, I made the police report and started the process of proving my identity and that I had never attended that school. After two years of trying to solve the issue, the school’s fraud department removed the student loans from my account and fixed the system internally to show I never attended that school. It took so much work to get my name cleared though. I had to fill out so much paperwork, and by the second year of my ordeal, I was stationed in South Korea. That made it even harder to make phone calls due to the time difference. My commanders were involved because I had to provide another police report for my case, and those reports are made available to the Brigade Commander. I was mortified! But I think the worst part of all was that my credit score was greatly reduced because it took two years to fix the issue.
When this was all happening, I learned about predatory schools and how they primarily target students of color, low income and marginalized students. They are schools that prey on people to attend their schools even though they offer poor education programs. Most of these universities are nationally accredited, whereas state/public universities and most not-for-profit schools are regionally accredited. I was very confused about the difference since I was never taught this distinction in high school after immigrating from the Dominican Republic. What I also learned was that the school I mentioned above had a representative at my base’s Education Center. This meant that military personnel and their dependents were able to see someone from that school as soon as they walked into the education center.
I was lucky that, when I went to the education center, my counselor recommended a not-for-profit private university that is regionally accredited, and I was able to complete my Bachelor’s degree and have it be recognized nationwide. I have met other veterans that were targeted by predatory schools, and they are currently jobless because their degrees are not recognized by most employers due to the poor reputation of those programs. Others have a tremendous amount of student loan debt because the education benefits did not cover the entirety of the tuition, fees, books, etc.. Predatory schools use advertising to sell you a pipe dream. When you see their commercials, they show you the single mother of two, who did her studies strictly online while working full-time and is now a well paid nurse or (insert dream job here). You buy into that dream because you think that could be you one day.
Military personnel and veterans trust the education centers to provide them with good information. Yes, we all need to do our due diligence and research, but what if we don’t know? When I was researching about this school, I saw it was accredited. To me that was enough to feel that, if someone accredited this school, why should that raise any red flags?
IAVA is fighting to help pass the Protect VETS Act, which includes closing the 90/10 loophole. This refers to the federal law that a for-profit college must obtain at least 10 percent of its revenue from a source other than Title IV education funds, the primary source of federal student aid. As funds from Defense Department Tuition Assistance and the GI Bill are not defined as Title IV funds, they may count toward the 10 percent requirement, just like private sources of financing. Predatory schools take advantage of the fact that GI Bill funds and Tuition Assistance are not considered part of the 90% limit on federal funding — hence the “loophole”.
These poor performing schools inherently target very vulnerable populations, and closing the 90/10 loophole would prevent them from disproportionately targeting servicemembers, veterans and their dependents who use the education benefits earned through their service to get a higher education.
Am I bitter that this happened to me? Yes! Of course! But I am even more upset that these schools have a loophole to continue to prey on our veterans, many of whom are first generation college students and are not aware of the intentions of these “bad actor” schools. I am also upset that these types of schools are allowed in our base Education Centers and are allowed to use our education benefits to their advantage while providing us with substandard education programs. It is time to close the 90/10 loophole and hold predatory schools accountable for all the damage they have inflicted upon our nation’s heroes.