Is GIBill.com Misleading College-Bound Veterans?

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Watch College, Inc., FRONTLINE’s investigation into how for-profit universities are transforming the way we think about college in America, and Educating Sergeant Pantzke, our follow-up film about how the schools recruit veterans.

The company behind GIBill.com, which markets for-profit colleges to veterans, is under investigation in 15 states for allegedly providing misleading information, according to a new report by California Watch.

QuinStreet, Inc. said in its quarterly SEC filing that attorneys general from Kentucky began looking into the company’s marketing services to for-profit schools — particularly the websites GIBill.com and ArmyStudyGuide.com — last August.

It said that 14 other states — Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina and Tennessee — have also joined in. According to the filing:

The attorneys general expressed concerns that the websites could mislead consumers into believing that the websites are affiliated with the government or that the featured schools are the only ones that accept scholastic subsidies (such as through the GI Bill) from service members and veterans and may thus violate the consumer protection laws of the respective States.

In other words: the attorneys general felt that veterans might think these for-profit colleges are the only, or at least their best, option.

The company said in the filing that it was cooperating with the investigations.

We reported on for-profit institutions’ efforts to recruit veterans in Educating Sgt. PantzkeVeterans can receive thousands of dollars to go to college under the GI Bill, making them attractive to colleges and universities looking to boost their bottom lines, and the for-profits have invested heavily in recruiting veterans for their programs.

FRONTLINE found that more than a third of all GI Bill dollars go to for-profit colleges — a 600 percent increase in just a few years. In the film, we interviewed veterans who enrolled in for-profit colleges and wound up deep in debt or with degrees that employers considered inferior to less expensive, state institutions.

Following the attorneys general inquiries, QuinStreet added a disclaimer to GIBill.com to state that the site is a “non-government privately sponsored website,” according to California Watch.

Update [June 27, 2012]: Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway today announced a settlement with QuinStreet, Inc., requiring the company to turn over the domain GIBill.com to the Department of Veterans Affairs and pay a $2.5 million fine to the states involved in the suit.

The VA will use the website “to promote the GI Bill program and educate servicemembers about the benefits available to them under the program.” QuinStreet is no longer allowed to use any domain names that include the words “GI Bill” and must relinquish all social media accounts that use the term.

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