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Veterans risk homelessness, losing tuition after ITT Tech shutdown

caption: Veterans Bobby McGee, Michael Horsley and David Lee Murphy Jr. in the Student Services Building at Lake Washington Institute of Technology
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Veterans Bobby McGee, Michael Horsley and David Lee Murphy Jr. in the Student Services Building at Lake Washington Institute of Technology
Patricia Murphy

The Department of Education is partnering with education nonprofits to help answer questions from students affected by the abrupt shutdown of ITT Technical Institute.

The 40,000 former students will have to find new schools if they want to pursue their education. But for the more than 6,000 of those ITT students who were veterans, the problems can be much more complicated.

David Lee Murphy Jr. was due to start classes 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. You know even having a week notice is just not enough to find another school or find a job to pay rent next month,” Fronabarger said.

Student Veterans of America is one of many organizations that have been helping former ITT tech students decide their next steps. But right now many are still reeling from the news.

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 altogether and just get a job, whatever I can get as far as being a veteran,” 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 in Kirkland 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. The fall quarter starts at the end of the month so we have a little more time to work through their needs. “

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.

Meantime 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 veterans spent at ITT.

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