Durbin Calls on VA to Take More Aggressive Steps to Identify Colleges Abusing the GI Bill Program
Asks agency to look into all Westwood College campuses – including Illinois
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today called on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to take more aggressive steps to identify colleges and universities that have taken advantage of GI Bill benefits and to remove them from the program. Specifically, Durbin asked the Secretary of the VA, Eric Shinseki, to look into the fourteen other Westwood College campuses including the four that are located in Illinois.
“It is appropriate to cut off federal funding from colleges engaged in what appear to be some of the worst abuses of the system,” said Durbin. “While disqualifying three Westwood campuses in Texas represents a step forward in oversight of GI Bill benefits, it is important that you go further. Westwood College has 17 locations in six states, as well as an online program, which need to be carefully scrutinized. Additionally, there have been reports of other for-profit colleges engaged in abusive and misleading enrollment practices.”
Last week, the VA announced that it withdrew education benefits from Westwood College’s Houston South, Dallas and Fort Worth campuses. The announcement by the VA came in the response to a February 14 letter to the Secretary of the VA, Eric Shinseki, in which Durbin requested a list of colleges and universities where the VA has suspended or withdrawn GI Bill and education benefits after discovering questionable recruiting practices used by these institutions.
[Text of the letter is below]
March 9, 2011
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary Shinseki.
I’m writing regarding the announcement that GI Bill benefits have been suspended from three campuses of Westwood College in Texas. I appreciate that the Department of Veterans Affairs, with the state approving agencies (SAAs), have begun to address the rapid growth of for-profit colleges and reported mistreatment of GI Bill beneficiaries. I ask you to take further steps to identify poor-performing and abusive colleges and remove them from the GI Bill program.
I understand that the VA and the Texas Veterans Commission withdrew eligibility to receive VA education funds from Westwood College’s Houston South, Dallas and Fort Worth campuses after findings of erroneous, deceptive, and misleading advertising and enrollment practices at these institutions. It is appropriate to cut off federal funding from colleges engaged in what appear to be some of the worst abuses of the system.
While disqualifying three Westwood campuses in Texas represents a step forward in oversight of GI Bill benefits, it is important that you go further. Westwood College has 17 locations in six states, as well as an online program, which need to be carefully scrutinized. Additionally, there have been reports of other for-profit colleges engaged in abusive and misleading enrollment practices. Under recent changes in law, both you and the SAAs are authorized to disapprove an educational institution. In addition, you will now be authorized to use SAA services to ensure compliance and oversight of schools, without regard for the state in which the schools’ campuses are located.
I ask you to take the following steps, working hand-in-hand with the SAAs, and to report to me on your progress:
1. Undertake a thorough investigation of all Westwood College campuses and programs to determine whether similar deceptive recruitment practices are utilized.
2. Highlight the disqualification of benefits from the Texas Westwood College campuses prominently on the appropriate VA website to ensure that veterans are aware of this decision.
3. Examine other for-profit colleges for similar abuses of GI Bill funding.
We share concerns about the effects of aggressive marketing that targets veterans by colleges of questionable quality. I encourage you to continue to forcefully pursue this issue as we work together to ensure the best educational quality for veterans and the best use of taxpayer dollars.
Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator
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