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“Quite frankly, we just didn’t know,” Monson said.
In another case, Maranatha Bible College in Brooklyn Park accepted students enrolled under the GI Bill from January 2005 at least through March of 2006, for programs that did not qualify for GI Bill funding. It was also criticized for a policy that allowed the school to keep fees for veterans withdrawing from classes. In 2006, initial approval for the school to receive GI Bill students was rescinded because of significant violations. The school has since shuttered its doors.
In 2010, Hennepin Technical College had to undertake a review of its GI Bill students after large-scale discrepancies were found in what courses veterans at the schools were reporting taking and what they completed, particularly at its Brooklyn Park and Eden Prairie campuses.
Although it says there was no malfeasance, Hennepin Tech acknowledges that it found itself over its head in the complexity of administering GI Bill funding, and has since moved the program to another department. It later reimbursed affected student veterans.
A Hennepin Tech official said cutbacks at the State Approving Agency are making it more difficult to adhere to the volumes of paperwork required for GI Bill funding, which is much more complex than other federal student education programs. The hands-on inspections of the past would be welcomed, said Nathan Stratton, Hennepin Tech’s dean of Enrollment Services.
“They help us catch when there is a problem,” said Stratton.
Asked for comment, the federal VA regional office in St. Louis issued a statement: “The purpose of all these activities is to prevent deficiencies and violations, as well as to identify and correct them when they are found. The VA strives to ensure the accuracy and timeliness of educational institution certifications of veteran students.”
Horseshoeing vs. training
The main oversight focus now is on for-profit colleges, which also have become a target of criticism for exploiting veterans through aggressive recruiting tactics and misleading graduation rates. Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson said earlier this year that her office is investigating the state’s for-profit colleges.
While programs at large for-profit, private and public schools like online giant Capella University and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities have been the recipients of the bulk of GI Bill funding, smaller programs have been beneficiaries as well. The American Academy of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine in Roseville received $18,000 for one student’s training. The Travel Academy in Eagan received $17,000 in GI Bill funding for training three students in the travel industry.
What programs are approved and what are not can become quickly complicated. The Minnesota Horse Training Academy, which teaches weeks-long courses in how to train a horse, was told in 2010 to stop using the phrase “VA Approved.” The Ogilvie, Minn., academy is not eligible for GI Bill funding.
But the Minnesota School of Horseshoeing is eligible.
Since August of 2009, the Ramsey school has received $67,000 for training Minnesota students. The school sees three to five GI Bill students a year.
“Horses are wonderful creatures. You’re working with a live animal. It is relaxing. It is physical,” said owner Nancy Duggan. “When they graduate from our school they are ready to go out and start working.”
Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434