CHARLES TOWN – Officials at American Public University System are reacting positively to an executive order designed to increase oversight and regulation of schools that recruit active duty military service personnel and veterans.
President Barak Obama signed the executive order late last month, saying that it was designed to combat aggressive and deceptive recruiting of service members and veterans.
While he acknowledged that “the majority of schools do the right thing,” the president said there were some “bad actors” who steer students toward high-interest loans and mislead them about whether credits taken at their schools will transfer to others.
“The sad truth is that there are people out there that are less interested in helping our men and women in uniform get ahead and more interested in making a buck,” Obama said. “One of the worst examples was a college recruiter who visited a Marine barracks and enrolled Marines with brain injuries so severe that some of them couldn’t recall what courses the recruiter had signed them up for.”
Jim Sweizer, vice president of Military Outreach at APUS, said the university welcomed the provisions of the executive order.
“We … applaud any effort on the part of any federal agency – or in this case the president – to go after the bad actors in our industry, especially those that seek out the military or veterans,” Sweizer said.
He said the order would allow for the development of clear recruiting rules across all military branches as well as “stringent sanctions on those schools that do not follow the rules.”
“We strongly support that. It is long overdue,” Sweizer said.
More than two-thirds of APUS’s 110,000 student body is composed of active duty service members, veterans or reservists.
“We still hold to the values of our origins. We were basically created to serve the military and public service professionals. The majority of our students are still in that category,” Sweizer said.
Many of the accusations of aggressive and deceptive recruiting have been trained on the for-profit college sector, which oper-universities using the model of a publicly traded corporation rather than a more traditional school funded by the state or large endowments. APUS operates two for-profit universities: American Military University and American Public University.
The reception in some other segments of the for-profit college sector has been more lukewarm than that at APUS. A press release from the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, an industry group, called the executive order a “deeply unfortunate development” and criticized Obama for deciding “to bypass the Congress to address these issues with an executive order.”
Sweizer said APUS did have some concerns about the rhetoric that surrounded the signing of the order at Fort Stewart, in Georgia.
“There were comments made by President Obama when he visited Fort Stewart on for-profits. Although he did say that this really applies to all schools, there was definitely an anti-for-profit slant. Unfortunately, when you have anyone painting with a broad brush – using terms like ‘predatory for-profits’ – we are a for-profit so we get caught up in that,” Sweizer said. “We try to stay above that fight. We don’t get defensive. We try to let our reputation speak for itself.”
“I think there are many of those on the Hill that recognize AMU as one of the good players.”
Sweizer said he did not think the actual regulatory and enforcement provisions of the order would be overly problematic for APUS.
“We weren’t greatly concerned with many of those provisions which, at the end of the day, I think are fairly good for our service members and the education industry as a whole. Frankly, we weren’t that shocked by it,” Sweizer said. “A lot of this we do already for the military.”
The order requires federal agencies to develop policies that ensure allowing prospective military students to compare costs and education outcomes, end aggressive or fraudulent marketing techniques, enroll students in only accredited courses and provide refunds if students withdraw from classes, among other requirements.
Sweizer said he did not think provisions that required the reporting of expected college costs and student outcomes would be overly burdensome either.
“Any time that we have to report any type of data to federal agencies it creates something of an administrative burden for us, but (this is) not something that is so overwhelming that we can’t meet that requirement,” Sweizer said. “We are a fairly transparent university to begin with.”