WASHINGTON — Anyone hoping to use their GI Bill benefits at Bellevue University in the near future might want to reconsider those plans.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced Monday that it is moving to suspend enrollment of new GI Bill students at Bellevue University over allegations of deceptive advertising to prospective students.
Also facing suspensions are the University of Phoenix, Career Education Corp. and Temple University, according to a VA press release that said the actions are based on findings from the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general.
“VA has concluded there is sufficient evidence to support a finding that these schools have utilized advertising, sales, or enrollment practices that are erroneous, deceptive, or misleading either by actual statement, omission, or intimation against GI Bill beneficiaries, in violation of the law,” according to the release.
The decision applies only to new GI Bill students and affected schools have 60 days to take corrective action, according to the VA.
Bellevue University is a private school in Sarpy County, just a short drive from Offutt Air Force Base. It serves both traditional students and many older adults who have already been in the workforce.
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Cris Hay-Merchant, Bellevue University’s director of strategic communications, said in a statement that the VA action stems from an action filed last year by Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson.
That action accuses the school of misrepresenting the accreditation status of its nursing program.
“We are contesting the AG’s complaint in the courts and believe that the evidence will show that no students were misled on the status of our nursing program accreditation,” Hay-Merchant said. “The nursing program received specialized accreditation from CCNE (Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education) effective October 2017 and the university has been continuously accredited by the Higher Learning Commission since April 13, 1977.”
The VA has received zero complaints about the school, which currently has more than 1,500 students using veterans benefits, Hay-Merchant added.
“Bellevue University has earned its reputation as a leading higher education institution for military students and their families,” Hay-Merchant said. “We look forward to responding to the VA and answering any questions they may have about our service to the nation’s military men and women.”
Peterson declined to comment through his spokeswoman Suzanne Gage.
The VA said it will allow current students at the schools to continue their studies as long as they have maintained continuous enrollment.
“Our aim in taking this action is to protect veterans and their dependents’ GI Bill benefits and comply with the law,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said. “The department is committed to helping beneficiaries avoid any negative consequences that may result.”
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., who represents Bellevue, said his office had received the VA press release but had no further information.
Veterans Education Success has pushed for the government to crack down on schools under a law that prohibits enrollment of GI Bill beneficiaries at schools that use “erroneous, deceptive, or misleading recruitment practices.”
The president of Veterans Education Success, Carrie Wofford, praised Monday’s move by the VA.
“This sends a powerful message, one we’ve been advocating for VA to exercise since 2012, that the federal government and taxpayers will no longer tolerate schools that seek to defraud veterans and other military-connected students out of their hard-earned federal education benefits,” Wofford said in a statement.