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Veterans could regain education benefits through legislation by Riverside Rep. Mark Takano

Veterans could regain education benefits through legislation by Riverside Rep. Mark Takano
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New legislation crafted by Rep. Mark Takano, D-Riverside, would reinstate GI Bill benefits for veterans who were students at either ITT Technical Institute or Corinthian Colleges — which operated three Everest Colleges in the Inland Empire — before those schools abruptly closed their doors.

In April 2015, thousands of students were left stranded when Orange County-based Corinthian closed all of its campuses, including 28 in California. ITT Tech, which had schools in San Bernardino, Corona, San Dimas, Orange, Torrance and Sylmar among its 130 campuses nationwide, locked its doors in September.

Takano, a former teacher who has worked on other legislation relating to for-profit colleges, said veterans were at a disadvantage to other students when it came to existing laws.

“Students who had federal financial aid were able to get their loans forgiven,” Takano said. “Veterans were not able to get their (GI) benefits restored.”

That may be changing. This week the House passed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, HR 3218, also known as the Forever GI Bill. Colmery was a World War I vet and American Legion national commander considered the architect of the GI Bill. The bill named for him now goes to the Senate.

If enacted, the bill would extend GI benefits from the current 15-year limit to an individual’s lifetime. One of the benefits veterans can access is money for attending college. Those benefits are limited to a 36-month maximum. For students who used benefits to attend Corinthian Colleges or ITT Tech and were enrolled in either of the schools when they closed, those benefits were lost.

A provision in HR 3218 sponsored by Takano, would reinstate those benefits for an estimated 9,700 veterans.

Takano said he has been working on the legislation for the past two years.

“I definitely knew that there were veterans in the Inland Empire that didn’t have recourse after ITT and Corinthian closed,” Takano said. “I talked to a Marine who wasn’t in my district, but just outside of it. He was just a few months short of his degree and was not able to transfer his credits and had spent down most of his GI Bill.”

In addition to the two large college chains targeted by the legislation, Takano said, it also “accounts for any future abrupt closures of colleges.”

The bill also contains some other provisions he thinks are important. One puts National Guard personnel and military reservists — such as those serving at March Air Reserve Base — on equal footing with active duty personnel in earning their GI benefits. The law was previously written so that months of required service had to be accrued continuously. The new provision allows for cumulative accrual, accounting for breaks in active service common for those serving in a reserve capacity.

The bill gives permanent status to a work-study program run through the VA. And it changes the formula for determining living expenses in order to put public, private and for-profit colleges on more of an equal footing.

Takano said the bill is just a start.

“I view this as just the first step in an effort to crack down on bad actors in the for-profit education industry,” he said. “ More needs to be done to protect all students.”

Congress, he said, needs to take on a bigger role on the issue with what he sees as an administration more friendly to for-profit colleges under current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

“I would say Secretary DeVos is a shill for the industry,” Takano said. “She likes to hang around with folks from that industry, and our president had his own for-profit university. I think Secretary DeVos is emblematic of the president’s values of letting for-profit colleges profiteer, rather than meeting the needs of our students and veterans.”

Tuition Growth Slows

Despite recent tuition increases by the California State University system and the University of California of 5 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively, tuition increases have actually slowed nationwide.

A report by the Wall Street Journal cited statistics from the Department of Labor in reporting a 1.9 percent increase in the past year in average tuition costs. That contrasts with a rise of nearly 400 percent in the past three decades.

Concerns about student debt, changing demographics and supply-and-demand market forces are all part of the slower-growth picture.

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