Veterans and active duty military members put their lives on the line in service to the country. When they get home, the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill promises to help pay for college.
But veterans who spoke with the I-Team said they’re being exploited by one of the biggest for-profit college companies in the country.
When Grant Shaffer left the Marines after two tours in Iraq, he said he wanted to learn to design video games. He claimed recruiters at the Art Institutes convinced him they’d teach him the skills he’d need to get a job. He said he attended both the Art Institute of Washington and the Art Institute of Pittsburg online.
But Shaffer said the classes were outdated and too basic. He claimed, in one of his classes, the school wouldn’t even pay for the required computer program.
“You’re trying to teach a college course with a program you’re requiring, but the instructor, he doesn’t have access to it,” Shaffer said.
Grant said he left the Art Institute after a year and a half and was no closer to becoming a game designer.
“Nothing that I ever learned at the Art Institute do I think I can apply to the real world,” Shaffer said.
Two previous I-Team investigations exposed accusations of unethical practices at the Art Institutes and three other major colleges: Argosy University, South University, and Brown Mackie College. All of these schools are run by EDMC, a for-profit company with 110 campuses, including 4 in the Tampa Bay area.
Critics say EDMC preys on veterans and active duty military to cash in on the federal aid they get from the G.I. bill. From 2009 to 2011, EDMC received $173 million dollars from veterans.
It’s often referred to as the “90-10 rule”. For-profit colleges aren’t allowed to get more than 90% of their funding from federal dollars. But federal aid from veterans doesn’t count. It creates a big financial incentive for for-profit colleges to recruit veterans.
The I-Team reviewed internal EDMC e-mails from a 2012 U.S. Senate HELP Committee report on for-profit colleges.
In May of 2009, President of Brown Mackie Colleges Danny Finuf wrote, “Never give up especially when dealing with important issues such as 90/10. The VA (Veterans’ Affairs) is a terrific opportunity.”
“I was taken for a ride,” said former Art Institutes student Michael DiGiacomo.
DiGiacomo is a veteran and former Art Institute student who also claims the education didn’t live up to the promises.
“I believe that they are basically using us a funnel to get access to the federal aid,” DiGiacomo said.
The Art Institutes, Argosy University, Brown Mackie College, and South University span 110 campuses and 135,000 students. They're all operated by one of the largest for-profit college companies in the country: Education Management Corporation (EDMC). In a 5-month investigation, the I-Team is exposing alleged unethical practices at EDMC, including accusations they lie to prospective students, forge job placement numbers, and exploit veterans, all in an effort to collect more than $1.8 billion a year in taxpayer money.