This Public University Has A Plan To Compete With For-Profit Colleges That Aggressively Recruit Veterans

In an effort to compete with for-profit universities to enroll veterans, the University of North Carolina (UNC) education system is partnering with a new educational startup called Ranku.

The UNC system should be in a strategic position to enroll a number of military personnel and veterans. North Carolina is home to Fort Bragg and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, and ties between the UNC system and the military have always been close. However, UNC does not see the number of military students it would expect due in part to for-profit institutions.

The role of for-profits in education is a contentious issue. Supporters of for-profits argue that their online classes and flexible schedules allow a variety of traditional and non-traditional students to engage in higher education. Critics, however, insist that for-profits offer sub-quality education while luring in students with impossible to match marketing budgets.

“Our marketing budget is a tiny fraction of the for-profits’,” Matthew Z. Rascoff, the Vice President of Learning Technology and Innovation for UNC, told Business Insider. “Ranku should help us improve our internet presence and compete more effectively.”

Ranku is an optimised search engine that can pair prospective students with schools that match their preferences. Prospective students can browse through online degrees by looking at schools, educational fields, or conducting a simple search.

“One of the main problems prospective students have, especially those transitioning from the military, is how do I search for the right school or major if I don’t necessarily know the words to describe it,” Kim Taylor, founder and CEO of Ranku, told BI. “Ranku simplifies the process. By logging on with your LinkedIn or Facebook account, we can give you personalised search results based off of your past education, geographical location, and friend activity.”

Beyond Ranku, UNC is instituting a number of its own home-grown initiatives in an effort to further ties with the military.

The entire UNC system, composed of 16 university campuses, has been linked together under a centralized system in place to ensure that education and administrative quality is standard across each university. This is largely put in place through the UNC Partnership for National Security.

“The partnership runs the whole gambit of trying to work with the military here in North Carolina,” Ann Marie Beall, director of military education at UNC, said. “It runs from military education to military R&D to fellowships and internships for officers in the military at UNC and fellowships for students at the military.

“What we’re really doing runs from supporting the individual war fighter to supporting the entire mission.”

These initiatives are particularly helpful for military personnel, who are being heavily sought after by for-profit universities. For-profits must abide by the 90/10 rule, which states that a for-profit college can receive no more than 90% of its revenue from Title IV federal student aid. Post-9/11 G.I. Bill dollars do not count towards that 90%, though.

For-profit universities, largely due to a program of unrivalled advertising across the country, have become the top recipients of Post-9/11 G.I. Bill dollars, according to Democratic Iowa Senator Tom Harkin. The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill provides veterans with up to $US19,200 a year in education benefits for four years and the education benefits were meant to help veterans transition into professional life.

A report from Harkin this summer found that the government ends up paying twice as much to send a veteran to a for-profit college than it pays for a public institution, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The partnership between Ranku and UNC comes as Congress considers the
Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014. The bill would extend in-state tuition fees for all veterans and their eligible dependents for up to three years after separation from the military. This would allow eligible military personnel to acquire an online degree from UNC for in-state rates, even if the veteran has never lived in North Carolina.

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