Pentagon’s Oversight of Tuition Aid for Service Members Has Major Gaps, Report Says

Congressional investigators have uncovered major gaps in the Defense Department’s oversight of a program that awards millions of dollars in tuition assistance to active-duty service members.

According to a report released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office, the Defense Department has no system to track complaints against colleges receiving the aid and no process for reviewing distance-education courses, which accounted for nearly three-quarters of the courses taken in 2009.

In the 2009 fiscal year, the Defense Department awarded $517-million in tuition-assistance benefits to 376,759 service members. The program provides up to $250 per credit hour, with a maximum of $4,500 per year.

The Voluntary Education Tuition Assistance Program is distinct from the GI Bill, which offers tuition support to veterans and was significantly expanded in 2008. But for-profit colleges have been big beneficiaries of both programs, receiving disproportionate shares of service members’ and veterans’ tuition dollars.

For-profits received $640-million, or 36 percent, of the $1.75-billion in total benefits paid by the Veterans Affairs Department under the new GI Bill the first year it was in effect, even though those institutions enroll fewer than 10 percent of all students in the United States, according to a recent report. The 18 largest for-profit colleges received $175-million from Defense Department educational programs in 2010, according to a recent report by the Senate education committee.

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