Grants offered to Iraq, Afghanistan veterans with debt from for-profit colleges

Concerned about Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have fallen into debt while attending for-profit colleges, a new advocacy group is offering grants to help them dig out.

The recently established Veterans Student Loan Relief Fund (VSLRF) says it has awarded 11 grants of up to $5,000 to veterans from seven states: Arizona, California, Illinois, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Applications for a second round of grants are being accepted here through Dec. 1.  Spouses or children of veterans who are using GI Bill benefits transferred from the veteran can also apply for the grants.

The relief fund is a non-profit organization, supported by a family foundation interested in veterans’ education issues, according to the VSLRF website.

It asserts that some for-profit colleges are using “misleading claims to enroll veterans in expensive programs that actually provide little value, but drain their GI Bill education benefits and leave them heavily in debt.”

In July, a report from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee found “widespread problems” among for-profit colleges.

It provided “overwhelming documentation of overpriced tuition, predatory recruiting practices, sky-high dropout rates, billions of taxpayer dollars spent on aggressive marketing and advertising, and companies gaming regulations to maximize profits,”  committee chairman Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said when it was released.

But the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities objected the report “twists the facts” and said the schools offer “flexible course scheduling, career-specific instruction and a pathway to employment in high-demand occupations.”

The new relief fund said it plans to better inform service members and returning veterans about their options for education. It has launched a website — www.knowbeforeyouenroll.org — which it says is based on a similar initiative by the City of New York for all students.

It also aims to advocate for federal and state legislation to curb abuses and taking legal action to recover government funds.

The relief fund is administered by Scholarship Management Services, which designs scholarship and tuition reimbursement programs for corporations and other clients.

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