Veterans Risk Homelessness, Losing Tuition After ITT Tech Shutdown

Sep 21, 2016

Military veterans were among the people most affected by this month's shutdown of ITT Technical Institutes. More than six-thousand former service members were enrolled at the for-profit college chain.

David Lee Murphy Jr. was due to start classes this month at ITT's Seattle campus. He paid his tuition and even bought books. The day after Labor Day he awoke to an email informing them that the school had shut down.

"I was angry. Still am. They basically took their money and ran," Murphy said.

Murphy lost nearly a year of his post 9-11 GI Bill money at ITT – $7,000 per quarter that the government provided him to get a debt-free education. It's money that as of now, he won't be getting back.

Meanwhile, ITT's shutdown cost veteran Michael Horsley more than his education money. He could lose his home.

That's because he gets a basic housing allowance from the VA that pays him $1,500 a month for his rent. But to keep getting it, he has to be enrolled in school.

"Right now I won't be receiving it," Horsley said.  "This month I won't be able to make enough to be able to pay for rent."

Horsley also had a part time work study job at ITT. He's losing that income too.

"First thing that came to my mind was, how am I going to pay bills? How am I going take care of my daughter?"

It's unclear how many ITT Tech veterans relied on federal money for housing. But Derek Fronabarger, director of policy at Student Veterans of America, said some vets could become homeless.

"A lot of students did not know this was coming down the line," Fronabarger said. "Even having a week notice is just not enough to find another school or find a job to pay rent next month."

Student Veterans of America is one of many organizations that have been helping former ITT tech students decide their next steps.

Army veteran Bobby McGee had already earned his Associates Degree in ITT's cyber security program at the school's Seattle campus. He said the news of the closure felt like a weight crushing him.

"I was thinking about quitting school all together and just get a job," he said.

But less than a day later McGee changed his mind.

"I gathered myself up, and I can't just say it's ITT's fault; that they are the reason why I did not make myself better. I can't do that because I'm still able to do whatever I need to do," McGee said.

McGee used social media to reach out to other students. Within hours, 18 of them met up in the ITT Tech parking lot, pulled out their laptops, and started researching new schools.

They called Lake Washington Institute of Technology from the ITT parking lot and set up an appointment for the next day.

Amy Goings is president of the school. She said those veterans were among many ITT students who've come to enroll.

"We had cars full coming from around the region," Goings said. "We have seen 34 total students as of a couple of days ago. Twenty so far have registered for fall. So we expect that it'll continue."

McGee, Horsley, and Murphy all signed up. But it's not clear if they'll be able keep any of the credits they earned at ITT. If not, they'll be back to square one in their quest to earn college degrees.

Some members of Congress are pressuring the education department to grant ITT students relief from student loan debt they accrued at the school. And some lawmakers are pushing a bill that would replace the GI bill money that veterans spent at ITT.