Testimony of Jack W. Lunsford, Director of Government Relations and External Affairs, Maricopa Community Colleges, Phoenix, Arizona on behalf of the American Association of Community Colleges
before the U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
Hearing on H.R. 801, Veterans Opportunities Act of 2001
334 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Thursday, March 15, 2001, 9:00 a.m.
Good morning Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee. My name is Jack Lunsford and I am the Director of Government Relations and External Affairs for the Maricopa Community Colleges. I am here representing my institution and the views of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) on H.R. 801, the Veterans’ Opportunities Act of 2001. AACC represents nearly 1,100 regionally accredited, public and private, associate degree-granting institutions of higher education. The Association is pleased to support this legislation, although many of the bill’s provisions do not touch directly on community colleges’ activities.
The Maricopa Community College District consists of ten nationally accredited colleges, currently serving nearly 220,000 credit students in the metropolitan Phoenix area. We are the largest providers of job training and education in Arizona, and our enrollment ranks us as the largest community college district in the United States. If the Maricopa Community Colleges were a four-year university, it would rank as one of the five largest higher education institutions in the nation. At any given time, one out of ten residents within Maricopa County are attending one of our colleges, receiving the highest quality education and training services.
As one can guess, the Maricopa Community Colleges serve a significant number of veterans. Although students are not required to reveal their military status, we have served an average of 4,000 declared veterans annually for the last decade. As for active military personnel, our Rio Salado College has branch operations located on Luke Air Force Base serving 600 students each semester. Our Luke Air Force Base center provides not only full time instruction, but also on-site registration, advising and career counseling for military personnel preparing to make the transition into civilian life. Rio Salado is also one of the institutions of higher education recently selected to provide distance learning to the Army through its Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative. This portable education program allows soldiers to continue their education wherever their duty assignments take them.
Service to America’s veterans is a central component of the community college mission. Our colleges provide myriad services to veterans, both as they prepare to separate from the service and after they have made the transition to civilian life. AACC testified on September 27 of last year on the assistance that community colleges provide to veterans seeking jobs when they have left the service. This is in addition to the longstanding support that the AACC has given to the Montgomery GI Bill.
AACC approves of the provision in H.R. 801 that substantially increases the amount of educational benefits provided under the Montgomery GI Bill for ROTC enlistees. These increased allowances are certainly well deserved by ROTC participants, and take into account the reality of rising college costs.
AACC is concerned about some aspects of Section 103 of the bill. This section expands the universe of eligible education providers to private entities that enable individuals to attain licenses or certificates necessary to obtain, maintain, or advance in a technical profession or vocation. The goal of this expansion is laudable—clearly it is to the benefit of both veterans and our economy to expedite the ability of service members to become certified in key technical fields. And many of the routes to such certification are through private providers. However, we are concerned about the potential for fraud and abuse in this area. The student aid programs in the Higher Education Act were riddled by scam artists in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and we do not want to see this type of abuse replicated. We will urge the Secretary to establish tight procedures to ensure that only legitimate providers are made eligible to offer programs.
AACC heartily endorses Section 106 of H.R. 801, which effectively makes distance education certificate courses eligible for GI Bill support. At this time, community colleges are offering hundreds of valuable certificate programs via the Internet and other asynchronous learning modes. Distance learning is an integral and growing aspect of Maricopa Community Colleges’ course offerings, with one of our colleges offering more than 100 different courses on the Internet. These distance education certificate programs are often of an occupational or technical nature and are geared toward placing individuals into good jobs in the shortest possible time frame. AACC championed a similar change to the 1998 amendments to the Higher Education Act, which made certificate programs of one year or longer, but less than associate degree length, eligible for federal student aid.
We also believe that Section 203 of the bill, which would provide greater information about education and training benefits for separating servicemembers and veterans, is quite valuable. As the AACC testimony outlined last September, many community colleges play an active role in providing veterans with this information, but state approving agencies must continue to play a systematic and vigorous role in increasing awareness and access. The number of veterans taking advantage of their educational benefits remains disturbingly low, despite improvements. More must be done in this area, and we stand ready to serve veterans in that role.
On behalf of the Maricopa Community Colleges, AACC, and some 1,100 community colleges across this country, I thank you for the opportunity to provide this testimony. We look forward to working closely with the Committee as it pursues its agenda on behalf of our nation’s veterans