Pentagon Alters Tuition Assistance

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.

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