Sgt. Pantzke: “I Just Want To Be Able To Start Over”

Share:

October 25, 2011

You may remember Sgt. Chris Pantzke, the retired Iraq war veteran who was featured in our recent film bearing his name. Educating Sergeant Pantzke investigated whether for-profit colleges are providing a quality education to veterans using their GI Bill money.

After his military service, Pantzke enrolled in an online photography program at The Art Institutes. He was nervous about whether he’d be able to cut it — he suffers from a traumatic brain injury [TBI], caused by a car bomb blast in Iraq, and post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]. He says the school told him he’d be taken care of and not to worry, but after struggling with his classes, he eventually flunked out.

Shortly before our June broadcast, The Art Institutes told FRONTLINE they had re-admitted Pantzke.

But last week, Chris Pantzke formally withdrew from the school, stating in a letter that “being a student at this Institution will not yield a gratifying and successful career as a photographer.” He also cited what he felt was a lack of disability services.

I spoke to Pantzke about his decision and his future, about which he seemed upbeat. But most of all, he feels relief: “I feel a lot less stressed,” he told me, expressing excitement about exploring educational opportunities at state schools and on his own time.

“Being a soldier, you don’t want to quit, you don’t want to give up or fail,” he explained. But after doing his own research, Pantzke concluded that the degree he was pursuing wasn’t “worth much more than the paper is worth.” And he felt he was “throwing away taxpayer money” by using GI Bill funds.

According to a recent report by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee [HELP], 24 percent of GI Bill money went to for-profit institutions in the past year. Out of the top 10 schools receiving these funds, eight are for-profits.

“The post-9/11 GI Bill education benefit is intended to be a gateway to opportunity for those who have bravely served our country,” said Sen. Tom Harkin [D-Iowa], who chairs the HELP committee.  “But I am concerned that many of those who use their one-time benefit at a for-profit college are being denied the chance to get a good education and begin a fulfilling career.”

Calls to the Education Management Corporation [EDMC], The Art Institute’s parent company, were not returned. But in an April 2010 letter to FRONTLINE, the company contends that the school tried to help Pantzke, offering him and others “extensive and variable tutoring services, at no charge, ranging from self-directed to live interactive support.”

In the end, it didn’t work out for Chris Pantzke, who conveyed a message for other veterans: “If they’re going to go to a for-profit, call employers, see if they’ll accept an online degree. Compare with state institutions and community colleges, and classes on [your military] post. Do your research first before jumping in both feet like I did.”

Most of all, though, he wants another shot at his education: “I just want to be able to start over.”


In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

As America Nears 200,000 COVID Deaths, President Trump’s Early Approach to the Virus Draws Scrutiny
“This unwillingness to think about the implications meant that there was no strategic planning going on,” John Bolton says in a scene from FRONTLINE’s "The Choice 2020: Trump vs. Biden."
September 21, 2020
In Wake of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Death, McConnell Reverses Course on Supreme Court Vacancy; Vows Vote on Nominee
It’s a markedly different approach than he took in the previous presidential election year of 2016, when a different Supreme Court justice died more than eight months before voters went to the polls.
September 19, 2020
Handling of Public Protests a 'Stress Test' for Police Reform
Violent outbursts have marked the period of unrest since George Floyd died May 25, after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinned the 46-year-old Black man to the ground by his neck. In many cases, police have responded with force to disperse protesters, captured on cameras nationwide — including in Cleveland, Chicago, Seattle and Portland, all cities that were already under court-enforced agreements to reform their police departments. Independent monitors overseeing those agreements say it's possible police could find themselves out of compliance for how they've responded to the recent unrest.
September 18, 2020
Amid George Floyd Protests, a Critical Question: Can the Feds Fix American Policing?
As millions of people rallied in the streets this summer demanding an end to police violence, more than a dozen cities were quietly working on their own police reform process — in conference rooms and court hearings.  
September 16, 2020