“My biggest mistake was trusting too many people.”

Murray Hastie

Murray Hastie, DeVry University in North Brunswick, New Jersey

Murray’s full story is featured in the documentary Fail State.

After serving two tours in Iraq as a US Marine, Murray Hastie returned to his native New York to go back to college and finally complete his bachelor’s degree in science. He had been in his sophomore year at the State University of New York-Plattsburgh during the 9/11 attacks, and had felt compelled to drop out and enlist in the Marine Corps.

Eighteen months after 9/11, Murray was serving in the battalion known as the “tip of the spear” in the invasion of Iraq. During Murray’s second tour, his company took heavy casualties during the Second Battle of Fallujah. “Some good guys didn’t come back from that tour,” Murray said solemnly in an interview with the Fail State team.

After his second tour, Murray decided that he had fulfilled his duty and it was time to leave the military. He accepted his honorable discharge in 2006 and began researching colleges that would accept his veteran education benefits. He searched online for “colleges that accept GI Bills” and an advertisement popped up with a big headline, “Do you want to go to college? Do you have GI Bill credits?” Murray clicked the ad and was presented with a list of schools – at the top was a for-profit college, DeVry University.

“It looked pretty interesting,” Murray recalled. “I put my [information] into the advertisement and I got quite a few responses.” A DeVry recruiter soon called and told Murray he was in his area and could schedule an in-home visit. When the recruiter arrived at his house, Murray told the recruiter he was interested in biology and dreamed of working in a lab. He also mentioned that he needed to attend a college with housing since he didn’t have a car.

Instead of biology, the recruiter suggested Murray enroll in DeVry’s three-year bachelor’s degree program in biomedical informatics. The recruiter told him that it had all the science and lab work Murray was interested in, but it was also a high-demand field. The recruiter took out a document that detailed all the big companies DeVry graduates worked for: IBM, Apple, General Electric, and an array of major hospitals and medical facilities. At the time, DeVry’s website advertised a 93% job placement rate for its graduates within six months of graduating. Seeing the high percentages made Murray excited. “I could be one of the 90%,” he thought to himself. The recruiter kept emphasizing that DeVry would help him find a job after graduation, which ultimately sold him on the school.

When Murray brought up costs, the recruiter told him he shouldn’t worry because his GI Bill benefits would cover his costs. The recruiter went further, assuring Murray that his benefits would not only cover his tuition and off-campus housing, but that it would also give him a living stipend. To Murray, it sounded like the perfect option, and he decided to enroll. The recruiter sat next to Murray and filled out Murray’s enrollment forms, asking him to sign on the dotted line.

A few weeks before school started, Murray visited DeVry’s campus to take care of his financial aid and set up his class schedule. Murray’s first red flag was in the financial aid office when the financial aid administrator told him he would need to take out student loans in order to enroll in classes. Murray explained to the administrator that he was a GI Bill student and he would be getting his money from the VA. The administrator assured Murray that this was normal, and he would need to take out student loans as a stopgap while the VA sent his monthly GI Bill payments over the course of the semester. The administrator explained that once the VA sent his education payments, the school would pay back the loans using his GI Bill money.

To Murray it sounded strange and overly complicated, but the administrator assured him his GI Bill benefits would cover all of his costs, making it sound like this is what every student-veteran needed to do. Murray proceeded forward and e-signed the documents to take out the student loans.

Unfortunately, what the financial aid administrator and the recruiter both told Murray was entirely untrue. Instead of covering all of his costs, Murray’s veteran education benefits only covered half of what it actually cost to attend DeVry. To make up the difference, DeVry was saddling Murray with federal and private student loans—loans that Murray believed were being paid back in full through his GI Bill.

Murray recounts going to the financial aid office and being told he needed to take out student loans:

Towards the end of his first year, Murray began to realize that DeVry had misled him about his financial aid. When he confronted DeVry about the issue, the administrator assured him that it was all being taken care of and Murray didn’t owe DeVry anything, which was a red herring; Murray didn’t owe DeVry anything because his loans originated from the government and private lenders, not from DeVry itself.

By that point Murray knew something was wrong, but he felt trapped and unsure what to do. At the time, Murray was suffering from PTSD from his service in Iraq and coping by isolating himself. He tried to stay enrolled because he wanted to graduate and didn’t want to admit he had made a mistake by going to DeVry. But by his second year, Murray’s PTSD had worsened, and he had turned to drinking. Murray’s coursework deteriorated and he began withdrawing from or failing most of his classes. Yet DeVry kept bringing Murray into the office each semester to sign the documents for more loans.

One day, Murray’s friends drove from his hometown to take him to a baseball game. At the stadium, Murray told his friends how poorly he was doing at DeVry and how much student loan debt he had accrued. His friends quickly realized that Murray urgently needed help before it was too late. Instead of taking Murray back to his New Jersey campus, they drove him back to his hometown.

Murray then enrolled himself at the VA Hospital in Albany to seek treatment for his PTSD. After recovering and being discharged from the hospital, he tried enrolling at his local community college. There, he learned he had used up all of his veteran education benefits at DeVry and amassed over $50,000 in federal and private student loans—loans he is still paying back today.

Murray discusses going to a community college after leaving the VA hospital:

In March of 2016, the VA suspended DeVry University from its “excellence” program that highlights colleges that do a good job of serving servicemembers and veterans. In December of 2016, DeVry paid a $100 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over allegations that the school deceived students about its job placement rates and earnings outcomes.

Murray compares his DeVry recruiter to his Marine Corps recruiter:

In December of 2018, DeVry University was sold to Cogswell Education, another for-profit college company.

Murray was able to graduate from his local community college with an associate’s degree. He is now a full-time firefighter for the Arlington Fire District in Poughkeepsie, New York. He is still paying down his student loans.