Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of The Honorable Steve Gunderson, President and CEO, Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU)
The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU) is the primary advocacy organization for our nation’s private sector colleges and universities (PSCUs), sometimes referred to as “proprietary” or “career” schools. We represent 1,650 schools, 2,000 members, and about one-half of the 3.8 million PSCU students nationwide. APSCU, and our member institutions, want to ensure that our veteran-students are well-prepared to enter postsecondary education and that every institution of higher education lives up to the standard of educating our nation’s best and brightest. Our schools cater to the unique needs of non-traditional students by providing a wide range of educational options, which empowers each student to choose the type of education that fits their needs best and provides much-needed access to an underserved population.
Today however, we shine the spotlight on the educational needs of our country’s often unsung heroes: our veterans. Two million veterans enlisted in the military following September 11, 2001 to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Since the enactment of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, veterans have continued to alter the traditional perception of what a college student looks like, as the number of students who attend college or university immediately after high school, attend full-time, live on campus, and rely on their parents to pay for their education grows smaller and smaller. PSCUs have educated 230,000 veteran-students under the new Post-9/11 GI Bill, and APSCU believes in the fundamental right of our veterans to use the educational benefits they earned through their extraordinary service to our country at the school that serves their needs best. However every postsecondary institution must be held to the highest standard when it comes to educating America’s “New Greatest Generation.” The number of students who used Post-9/11 GI benefits to attend PSCUs almost doubled between the first- and second-year of the benefits, from 76,746 to 152,130. The share of students who used Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to attend PSCUs also increased slightly from 23 percent to 25 percent in the same time-frame. It is critical to note that while there was growth in the number and percentage of students educated at PSCUs using Post-9/11 GI benefits, the percentage of the total amount of benefits received by PSCUs remained constant at 37 percent. In other words, PSCUs were able to educate more students with the same share of total benefits. Additionally, about one-third, or 30 percent, of Yellow Ribbon Program participants are PSCUs. In addition, PSCUs represent 45 percent of all schools that offer the Yellow Ribbon Program to an unlimited number of veterans and that make the maximum Yellow Ribbon contribution. To truly appreciate the extent to which PSCUs participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, 77 percent offer it to an unlimited number of veterans and 61 percent make the maximum school contribution.
Veterans have historically attended PSCUs because we have consistently offered flexible administrative and academic policies, career-focused curricula, credit for past training and experience, and support services that strive to meet their unique academic and personal needs. After being mission-focused, many veterans feel more comfortable in career-focused programs, which allow them to hone the skills learned in the military and receive the necessary training to transition into the workforce. PSCUs also know that veterans may require support with integration into the higher education culture, such as helping cope with service-related disabilities, assistance socializing with peers or instructors, or other creating a school-based veteran support network. PSCUs also know that veterans may require support with integration into the higher education culture, such as helping cope with service-related disabilities, assistance socializing with peers or instructors, or other creating a school-based veteran support network.
Two million veterans will have returned from OEF/OIF once the drawdown is complete, and as the Department of Defense proceeds with a planned reduction in force, it is imperative that Congress work to ensure that our veterans, particularly young combat veterans, are not only provided with the tools and resources to access a postsecondary education through their generous benefits, but also the tools and resources to make an informed, thoughtful decision about which educational opportunity will best prepare them for the workforce. The transition from soldier to student is often wrought with unexpected challenges for many veterans because institutions of higher education are unprepared to fulfill the unique needs of veteran-students and veteran-students are unprepared to navigate the wave of educational options before them. As a result, many veterans fail to achieve their academic goals. H.R. 4057 directs the Secretary of the Veterans’ Affairs to develop a comprehensive policy to ensure that veteran-students have the tools necessary to make informed decisions about their postsecondary education. Ultimately, there is a shared responsibility for the academic success of our veteran-students, including the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the student, and the institution. It should be incumbent upon the VA to ensure that veterans are provided with the information and resources about their educational options, the veterans to utilize the information to make informed education choices, and the institutions to provide the quality of education veterans deserve with the benefits they earned.