National Group for Student Veterans Kicks Out 40 Chapters at For-Profit Colleges

April 05, 2012

A national advocacy group for student veterans has revoked chapter memberships at 40 for-profit colleges, citing a violation of its policy that requires all campus chapters to be student-run. The 40 chapters in question had listed administrators, not students, as primary contacts and used institutional Web sites and recruitment pages as their chapter sites.

The group, Student Veterans of America, or SVA, announced on Thursday morning that it had discovered the discrepancy after reviewing membership information for its approximately 480 chapters. It notified the 40 institutions on Wednesday that it had revoked their membership, said Michael Dakduk, a Marine Corps veteran and the group's executive director. He declined to name the institutions.

Mr. Dakduk said the group ousted the chapters because it didn't want the colleges—some of which had advertised Student Veterans of America's name on their Web sites in an attempt to appear "veteran friendly," he said—to use the organization as a recruitment tool for veterans, without adequate resources to support them.

"This is a blatant way of utilizing our platform to advertise their company," Mr. Dakduk said in an interview. "It gives the impression to potential student veterans that it's a good school to go to."

One way prospective student veterans can find colleges with active student-veteran organizations is to use SVA's online map, which features contact information for chapters' leaders. But if a college lists a registrar, an enrollment adviser, or another administrator—as the 40 ousted institutions allegedly did—that compromises the goal of connecting veterans directly to one another, said Mr. Dakduk, and it threatens the organization's legitimacy.

"It completely defeats the purpose of our peer support," he said.

The national group's roots are in student-led advocacy for better services for veterans. In 2008 its 20 or so charter chapters, which had formed out of veterans' dissatisfaction with existing campus services, created the national umbrella group. Today SVA's chapters rely on a peer-to-peer network to help veterans transition smoothly into student life.

Scrutiny of For-Profit Colleges

As the number of veterans enrolling in college under the Post-9/11 GI Bill continues to grow—by some estimates, reaching nearly 700,000 this academic year—concern over how colleges advertise and appeal to veterans has escalated in Washington. Under the new GI Bill, unlike previous educational programs for veterans, the federal government makes tuition payments directly to institutions.

From 2009, when the law went into effect, to 2011, the for-profit sector has landed a sizable chunk of the revenue: $1.65-billion, about one-third of the total amount paid to colleges under the new GI Bill during that time, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

That situation has brought scrutiny. Last month 14 U.S. senators asked the Department of Veterans Affairs to seek a trademark for the name "GI Bill," arguing that doing so would prevent unscrupulous for-profit colleges from using the phrase in "misleading or dishonest marketing campaigns." Other lawmakers have introduced legislation aimed at curbing for-profits' recruitment of veterans.

Steve Gunderson, president and chief executive of a trade group that represents many for-profit colleges, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, said he was unaware of the dispute with SVA until contacted by The Chronicle.

"Once we learn of the specific schools, we will reach out to them to determine if there are misunderstandings or problems that can be resolved," Mr. Gunderson said in a written statement. "We look forward to working with SVA and others to ensure that the chapters on all school campuses are meeting the expected standards," he said. "That continues our common goal of providing every veteran with a quality education experience."

Institutions whose SVA membership was revoked this week will be allowed to reapply if they can provide appropriate documentation and contact information for student-led chapters. Mr. Dakduk expected that process to reveal which chapters were truly active and had made an honest mistake, and which were looking to capitalize on SVA's name recognition to appeal to prospective student veterans.