A Softened Critique

Senators from both parties have joined the push to get the Defense Department to reconsider its memorandum of understanding for tuition assistance for service members, which many colleges said overstepped the department's authority by interfering with institutional policies on transfer credit and other issues.

More than 50 senators have now signed a letter to the Defense Department asking for a delay in the implementation of the memorandum of understanding. College officials believe that changing the agreement is key because the rules, if put in place by the Pentagon, could set a precedent for other departments — including Veterans Affairs — or for federal oversight of higher education in general.

But making the letter palatable to Senate Republicans, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and a former education secretary, required deleting references that were harshly critical of for-profit colleges.

The memorandum of understanding governs the Defense Department’s tuition assistance program, which provides money for active duty members of the military to pursue a college education. Originally drafted in March, it was intended to assure better quality control in programs that receive federal money. In a letter signed by the American Council on Education and other higher education associations, many colleges and universities argued that it would do just the opposite: many prominent institutions would not agree to the new terms and would be forced to withdraw from the program.

The biggest point of conflict was the requirement that colleges adhere to the principles and student bill of rights of the Servicemember Opportunity Colleges, a voluntary association made up largely of community colleges and for-profit institutions. The principles include a reduced residency requirement — members of the military should be able to earn a bachelor’s degree with only a year on campus — and instruct colleges to award credit for military training.

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INSIDE HIGHER ED

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