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Obama signs order to curb education abuse of vets

FORT STEWART, GA -- President Obama traveled to an Army base here on Friday to sign an executive order intended to curb predatory practices by colleges -- many of them for-profit institutions -- seeking to attract members of the military and veterans.

“As some of your comrades have discovered, sometimes you’re dealing with folks who aren’t interested in helping you. They’re interested in getting the money,” the president said, noting that some colleges lie, for example, about having credit transfer and work placement programs. “They don’t care about you, they care about the cash.”

Obama added that he’s “heard the stories” from veterans who sign up for information on a college’s website and are then bombarded with emails, phone calls and even on-base visits from recruiters. He said that some schools have been known to solicit Marines with brain injuries who can’t even remember the classes they were signed up for.

“They’re trying to swindle and hoodwink you. And today at Fort Stewart we’re going to put an end to it,” Obama said to approximately 10,300 soldiers in a large field here.

The executive order require colleges to provide more information to about their programs including the percentage of military members and veterans who complete courses and degrees, as well as access to the “Know Before You Owe” financial aid form drafted by the Consumer Financial Protection bureau and the Department of Defense.

“We’ve got to make sure you’ve got every tool you need to make an informed decision when it comes to picking a school,” Obama said.

The administration says that eight of the top ten educational institutions collecting the most post-9/11 GI Bill benefits between 2009 and 2011 were for-profit schools, six of which had bachelor student withdrawal rates above 50 percent. The White House’s hope is that military members’ access to more information about these schools’ outcomes will help them avoid going to colleges that have bad records of graduation and degree completion.

The executive order would also direct the Defense Department to set rules for which education recruiters can visit military installations to limit the access of “bad actors” to potential recruits. And the Veterans Administration will seek a trademark for the term “GI Bill” so that it can crack down on deceptive websites made to look like they are affiliated with the military.

Pending legislation in Congress would accomplish similar and in some cases more extensive goals than the executive order; Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)’s GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act of 2012 would for example require schools to disclose more information than the executive order does, like transferability of credits earned, the number of veterans enrolled and job placement rates.

And while the White House does require schools to provide academic and financial counseling, Murray’s bill would also specifically require schools to have at least one employee with expertise in military and veterans’ education benefits as well as to provide tutoring, career counseling and referrals to veterans centers.

In response to the president’s speech, the Republican National Committee released a statement criticizing his wider post-9/11 G.I. bill that took effect in August 2009.

“President Obama’s new G.I. Bill has failed to deliver on its promises to veterans and today’s event doesn’t address veterans losing their homes and the thousands of claims that remain unprocessed. Our veterans deserve the best and the President’s G.I. Bill has broken his promise to take care of veterans once they return from protecting freedom on the battlefield.”

Before the president and first lady Michelle Obama spoke, they toured the Warrior’s Walk, a tree-lined area featuring markers for fallen service members, where they placed presidential coins and folded American flags on the markers of two young fallen soldiers.

Fort Jackson is home to the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, which has deployed numerous times to Iraq and currently has elements in Afghanistan.