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Pentagon Alters Tuition Assistance

April 6, 2012

WASHINGTON -- The Department of Defense appears to have softened a new memorandum of understanding for colleges participating in tuition assistance programs for active duty military service members, eliminating provisions that some campus officials said went too far in trying to influence college policies on academic issues -- and adding new ones that seem aimed at for-profit institutions.

The memorandum, first proposed in March 2011, was intended to tighten quality control over programs receiving money from the more than 300,000 active-duty troops taking courses with tuition assistance dollars. Instead, it drew protests from some colleges, including selective research institutions, by requiring colleges hoping to enroll students on tuition assistance to adhere as much as possible to the student bill of rights from the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges, a voluntary association.

Colleges in the association, which includes many four-year public colleges (including some state flagship universities) as well as some community colleges and for-profit institutions, agree to generous transfer of credit policies and lenient residency requirements. Students must be required to spend no more than one year in residence for a four-year degree, and colleges that sign the bill of rights agree to give academic credit for some military training.

The American Council on Education said those requirements interfere with colleges’ right to set their own academic policies, and would prevent many selective institutions from enrolling students on military tuition assistance. In response to their concerns, and to a letter from more than 50 senators requesting a delay and reconsideration of the new agreement, the department delayed implementation of the new memorandum until March 31 so it could be revised.

That revised text has not yet been released, but the department is now saying that it will not take effect until this summer. And an announcement indicated that the most controversial requirements have been dropped in favor of a call for more disclosure.

A statement from the department, which calls the new version a “stronger, clearer memorandum,” makes no mention of the transfer of credit or residency requirements from the previous version.

Instead, the memorandum of understanding says that colleges participating in the tuition assistance program will “disclose all policies regarding admissions, transfer of credit, residency requirements, as well as the program costs," including tuition, fees and other charges, before service members enroll. They will also be required to give students access to a financial aid adviser to inform prospective students about loans and grants, including offering loan counseling, before enrollment.

The new requirements appear aimed squarely at the for-profit colleges that receive half of all tuition assistance money: $280 million of the $563 million program, according to a report from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

The role for-profits play in educating veterans and members of the military has been a hot topic on Capitol Hill in recent months. Members of Congress have proposed bills to curb the sector's recruitment of veterans, put in place more stringent requirements for financial aid eligibility and change a rule that does not count Pentagon tuition assistance or the Post-9/11 GI Bill as federal dollars under the “90-10 rule,” which requires for-profit colleges to derive at least 10 percent of their revenue from sources other than the federal government.

The final requirement mentioned in the Defense Department announcement is in line with those concerns: colleges participating in tuition assistance must have a policy that bans “aggressive marketing and inducements and refrain from aggressively marketing to military students or use inducements to encourage military students to enroll in their school,” according to the statement.

None of those requirements were in the memorandum as it was originally proposed.

The American Council on Education declined to comment on the changes until the final memorandum is made public.

More than 2,000 colleges and universities have already signed the memorandum of understanding, the department said. Those that have not can continue operating under the existing version until the new version goes into effect this summer. Colleges that have already signed the memorandum will not be required to sign it again.

 

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