Dispute Over Military Student Aid

Many colleges and universities, including many selective institutions, may choose to drop out of the military's tuition assistance program for active-duty service members if changes are not made to Defense Department guidelines, several higher education groups warned Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a letter Monday.

The colleges take issue with new guidelines the Defense Department put forth in a memorandum of understanding in March, which were intended to ensure better quality control for programs that receive tuition assistance. Instead, the groups say, the guidelines go too far in prescribing how programs must award academic credit and process student payments, among other issues.

The memorandum, which institutions must sign before receiving tuition assistance payments, includes some relatively uncontroversial points: it requires that colleges be regionally or nationally accredited and comply with Defense Department regulations. But other points are more controversial and intrude on what colleges view as their prerogative, especially its specific instructions on accepting transfer credits.

The memorandum must be signed by Jan. 1 for colleges to continue to be eligible for tuition assistance, which covers tuition up to specified limits for active-duty members of the military who are enrolled at an institution of higher education.

To receive tuition assistance, colleges must "where appropriate" award credit based on the military's transcript system, the department said in the agreement. The system describes courses that military personnel have taken while in service, and the memorandum would require all institutions receiving tuition assistance to "recognize, accept and award credit where appropriate" based on those criteria.

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