In Colorado Springs, we are proud to be known as a military town. As the home to Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base, Schriever Air Force Base, and the Air Force Academy, we are a community steeped in the values of service, always supporting both the servicemen and women, veterans, and their families who call our town home. At Mount Carmel Veterans Service Center, we deliver services and offer support to military members, veterans, and their families as they transition into civilian life and as they look to their next employment or education opportunity, require resources, and/or need behavioral health services.
When we speak with veterans about their hopes for civilian life, many feel passionate about going back to school, enrolling in a degree or certificate program to gain the skills and competitive edge they need to enter the workforce. It’s an investment of their time and money, and a veteran’s eligibility to pay for school with the GI Bill benefits makes pursuing a post-secondary degree even more attractive and within reach.
With so much at stake, veterans, and the broader student population alike, it’s critical they have access to important data to help them decide on which schools are the right fit. In fact, access to information in any competitive market gives the consumer the confidence in knowing that the product they may purchase will meet their needs. Considering the cost of post-secondary education, the least our veterans can be provided when it comes to enrolling in specific institutions is clear information on how graduates perform after they complete their course of study. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
Currently, schools are not required to report simple metrics like enrollment numbers, completion rates, employment outcomes, and students’ abilities to pay down debt. Without access to this critical data, it’s difficult to know if you’re really getting what you’re paying for when it comes to an education – regardless of the cost or length of program. And far too often, we see predatory schools market to students, including veterans, based on promises they simply cannot keep, particularly as it relates to postgraduate income levels and certifications.
According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Education, of all the Colorado schools that share data, almost half graduate fewer than 50% of the students who enrolled eight years prior. When you consider that Colorado institutions received $1.2B in federal grants and loans, including GI Bill money, it’s clear that rate is simply not acceptable. What’s also concerning is that veterans are especially susceptible to bad actors who are more interested in gaining access to GI Bill funds than providing an education that will net a positive return on investment.
More needs to be done to make schools accountable to students, including veterans. And it all begins with installing accountability measures and guardrails across the entire postsecondary education system to ensure transparency. If institutions are not held responsible for their performance, there is no incentive to improve or change their current way of operating.
And 75% of Coloradans agree that the federal government should provide these transparency guideposts to higher education institutions to protect students from using loan money or taxpayer-funded grants to attend predatory schools that do not provide the return on investment students deserve.
Thankfully, there is legislation that would address these issues and establish a streamlined reporting system for all postsecondary schools. Known as the College Transparency Act, the bill calls for the accountability measures that our higher ed system urgently needs. By making critical data available, students will be in a better position to make informed decisions about their future, armed with the reassurance that the program they choose will deliver on its promises of a quality and obtainable education.
We can do better for the veterans and students enrolled in higher education programs across our state. I commend Senator Gardner for supporting these reforms and hope that Colorado’s other leaders in Congress consider these important student-focused updates to make our post-secondary education system stronger for our students, and our nation’s veterans.
Bob McLaughlin is Chief Operating Officer Mount Carmel Veterans Service Center, Colorado Springs.