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New tuition assistance rules are imminent

Jul. 25, 2012 - 03:01PM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 25, 2012 - 03:01PM  |  
Within the next two weeks, DoD likely will release updated rules that colleges must agree to within 60 days if they balked at a previous version, said DoD Chief of Continuing Education Programs Carolyn Baker.
Within the next two weeks, DoD likely will release updated rules that colleges must agree to within 60 days if they balked at a previous version, said DoD Chief of Continuing Education Programs Carolyn Baker. (Marine Corps)
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Tuition assistance might no longer cover your courses if you're attending a college that's skeptical of new federal requirements meant to protect troops in the higher education system.

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Tuition assistance might no longer cover your courses if you're attending a college that's skeptical of new federal requirements meant to protect troops in the higher education system.

Within the next two weeks, the Defense Department likely will release updated rules that colleges must agree to within 60 days if they balked at a previous version, said DoD Chief of Continuing Education Programs Carolyn Baker.

The first memorandum of understanding, or MOU, which DoD wanted schools to sign by Jan. 1, 2012, drew protests from some schools and other officials out of concern that it could limit academic freedom.

The original MOU required colleges and universities to review academic credit for military training, recognize transfer credits from other schools and limit residency restrictions, among other changes.

The rules were drawn up, in part, to address concerns that some for-profit schools have been taking advantage of service members and their taxpayer-funded education benefits.

After an outcry over the original memorandum from schools, academic institutions and lawmakers, the Pentagon delayed the planned Jan. 1, 2012, start date and ultimately decided to revise the MOU.

Acceptance of the new MOU will be mandatory for colleges that didn't sign the original, Baker said. Troops will not be able to use tuition assistance money to attend any school that hasn't adopted either version by the deadline. Schools that signed the previous version will have the option to switch to the new one, but won't be required to.

If a school doesn't sign on and your course starts before the deadline, it will be covered as under the old system; if your course starts on or after that date, it won't.

Speaking at the DoD Worldwide Education Symposium in Las Vegas on July 24, Baker said her department worked with schools and political officials to address complaints over the original MOU. She said the new one will maintain much of the substance of its predecessor while incorporating clarifications to make it more acceptable to schools.

"We did a lot of work, but the final result was a stronger and clearer MOU," Baker said.

But Baker faced tough questions from some school officials.

"One of my concerns is that there are still going to be schools, universities out there who are not going to be allowed by their accrediting agencies to sign ... some of these MOUs. They're certainly going to be fearful to sign on," said Carol Fleisher, director of the University of Missouri's Veterans Center. "What is going to happen with all of the reservists and the Guardsmen who will not be able to get TA from some of these schools?"

Fleisher said that as a research-oriented university, her school cannot be a member of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges consortium — a network of schools serving military members.

Guidelines associated with that group were part of the original MOU. Even under the revised version, Fleisher said tuition assistance could become unavailable at the nation's Ivy League schools.

Baker said that with the help of schools and academic groups consulted for the revision, DoD "pulled out all of those requirements that your institutions said they couldn't abide by in the SOC principles."

Even if the MOU to be released next month garners universal support, Baker said DoD still will have to draft a third memorandum, slated for completion next year. That version will incorporate "Principles of Excellence" for schools receiving tuition assistance as outlined in an executive order handed down by President Obama in April.

If a school has agreed to the first two memorandums, it will still have to agree to the third for students to be eligible for tuition assistance money.

"Everyone's going to have to sign the third one, because there's going to be additional requirements in it," Baker said.

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