Two U.S. senators have asked the Pentagon to hand over five years of sponsorship contracts between military bases and for-profit colleges, citing an exposé by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. Records obtained by Reveal show the senators are on the right track.
In September, Reveal wrote about an agreement between the for-profit University of Phoenix and garrison commanders at Fort Campbell along the Tennessee-Kentucky border. The contract – released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed in 2015 – allowed representatives of the University of Phoenix to fly banners advertising the for-profit college on one of America’s largest military bases and place promotional materials in high-traffic areas on the post.
The document also showed that recruiters from the proprietary college were allowed to give gifts to the troops and insert marketing materials into official military welcome packets for newly arrived soldiers – all in exchange for cash.
“Given what has been revealed in this single contract, we are deeply concerned about the extent to which Fort Campbell and other military installations may have entered into similar contracts with the University of Phoenix and other for-profit colleges,” Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Richard Durbin of Illinois wrote to Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
In their letter, Reed – the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Armed Services – and Durbin, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Defense, asked for copies of all contracts between base commanders and for-profit colleges since 2012. The senators said the agreement with the University of Phoenix ran counter to an executive order signed by President Barack Obama “which remains in effect and sought to prevent predatory recruitment of service members and veterans by colleges on military installations.”
At the Pentagon, spokeswoman Laura Ochoa would not say whether the Defense Department would furnish the records.
“We will respond to Congress appropriately,” Ochoa said.
The University of Phoenix is not the only for-profit college to have paid military commanders to sponsor events on bases. In December 2014, Reveal filed Freedom of Information Act requests with five bases – Fort Campbell, Fort Carson in Colorado, Fort Hood in Texas, Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida and Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington state – seeking sponsorship data from their morale, welfare, and readiness commands.
Those FOIAs turned up $865,000 from 38 for-profit colleges between 2012 and 2015. Many of those schools have faced state and federal fraud charges or class-action lawsuits. Some have closed their doors.
Among the for-profit schools paying for access to bases:
- Jones International University, an online college that shut down in 2015. According to the Denver Business Journal, it was an outgrowth of businessman Glenn Jones’ cable-television based Mind Extension University (later called Knowledge TV). It paid commanders at Fort Campbell and Joint Base Lewis McChord $90,000 to sponsor rugby matches, an airshow, a special-needs camp for military children and briefings for newly stationed soldiers.
- DeVry University, which reached a $100 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission in December 2016 over allegations the for-profit college “misled prospective students with ads that touted high employment success rates and income levels upon graduation.” Documents obtained by Reveal show DeVry paid $40,000 to sponsor events at the bases we queried. The sponsored events included a fall flea market at Joint Base Lewis McChord and a briefing for newly stationed soldiers at Fort Campbell.
- Walden University, a for-profit college whose corporate parent – Laureate Education – paid former President Bill Clinton $17.6 million over five years to be an “honorary chancellor,” spent $12,000 to sponsor events at Fort Campbell and Fort Hood. Last December, a Marine Corps veteran sued the company, alleging it misled students about the time and money required to obtain advanced degrees online.
- Allied American University, a Southern California-based online school, which shut down in December 2016. It sponsored events at Fort Hood, Joint Base Lewis McChord and Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
Ochoa said the Defense Department tightened access to military bases in July 2014. The military, she said in an email, “implemented enhanced procedures regarding installation access by educational institutions and protection of Service members and their families from potentially harmful recruitment practices. Since then, all installation access agreements with educational institutions are following updated guidelines.”
However, many of the events listed in the documents obtained by Reveal occurred after July 2014, including those covered by the contract cited by senators Reed and Durbin in their request to the Pentagon.
Here is a chart of all 38:
Jones International University$89,730.58
|University of Phoenix||$426,512.50|
|Grand Canyon University||$35,450.00|
|Allied Amercan University||$32,255.00|
|Trident University International||$21,375.00|
|North Central Institute||$15,000.00|
|Miller-Motte Technical College||$14,000.00|
|Austin’s Beauty College||$12,392.00|
|Refuel Re: Grantham University||$10,000.00|
|International Academyn of Design Tech||$8,000.00|
|Refuel Re: National university||$7,900.00|
|Colorado Technical University||$5,000.00|
|American Military University||$5,000.00|
|TN Health Careers||$5,000.00|
|Allied Business Schools||$3,500.00|
|The Academy of Make Up Arts||$3,500.00|
|Corintihan Colleges Inc||$3,000.00|
|Professional Aeronautics Academy||$2,600.00|
|National American University||$300.00|
|New Horizons College||$250.00|