Changes shelved for military assistance

The Department of Defense will delay changes to its military tuition assistance program – originally set to take effect Friday – after national educational organizations last year decried the strings attached to the federal funding.

The department announced March 26 that it is reconsidering its controversial proposal for participating universities who seek federally funded financial aid for active-duty students.

Over the last three months, the department worked with educational organizations, military interest groups and veterans “to address issues associated with the document,” according to a statement.

    Timeline of Changes to the Department of Defense’s Tuition Assistance Program


  • July 2012

    Department of Defense first introduces changes to Tuition Assistance Program

  • November 2011

    Petition signed by the American Council on Education and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities

  • December 2011

    Deadline to sign memorandum of understanding extended

  • March 2012

    Department of Defense announces reconsideration of changes

A spokeswoman from the department said the proposed changes will not take effect when the deadline passes this week. Public Affairs Officer for the Defense Department Lieutenant Commander Kate Meadows said a new memorandum is on track to be released this summer.

“There have been several meetings to discuss the intent of the [memorandum of understanding], resolve concerns and to provide the clarifications to strengthen the [memorandum] provisions and improve the higher education community’s awareness and understanding,” according to the DOD statement. “Once all coordination is completed, schools will have ample opportunity to review the [memorandum of understanding] prior to their signing and the policy going into effect.”

Until a new memorandum is released, the program will maintain its current terms. The Defense Department statement did not specify which provisions it would reconsider before a new draft of the agreement is finalized.

In the original memorandum of understanding released last year, provisions were tacked on to the program that gave the department – not individual colleges – authority over transfer credit and housing requirements for veterans.

The memorandum serves as an agreement between the federal government, which provides tuition assistance funding, and partner colleges to ensure money is funneled to legitimate academic programs. The department said last semester that the additional limitations were meant to cut down on fraud and inefficiency.

About 320,000 service members nationwide received $545 million in 2011 through tuition assistance benefits, which is separate from the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. The University offers $250 per credit hour through the program to students who have been active in the U.S. military – up to $4,500 per year. About 75 students received benefits from the defense program this academic year.

Educational groups claimed last November that the new stipulations could force some institutions to accept transfer credits that do not meet their current standards, including academic hours for military training and experience. The terms would also reduce on-campus residency obligations for participating students to one year – clashing with GW’s two-year undergraduate requirement.

The memorandum also sets guidelines for participating schools to provide information about their academic standards, including degree requirements, grades and course withdrawal and enrollment. GW met the requirements set by past versions of the memorandum, allowing the University to participate in the program.

The University will determine future participation in the program when the new terms are released.

“We cannot speculate at this time,” University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said. She declined to say if the delay was a positive indication for the University’s autonomy.

Participating universities were originally required to decide whether they would comply with the terms by last December, a deadline that was bumped to March 30 after national associations representing more than 1,000 universities threatened to withdraw their support of the program because they said some of its stipulations conflicted with existing academic standards.

Signatories of a Nov. 21 letter included the American Council on Education and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, representatives for neither of which responded to requests for comment.

Some “provisions are at odds with traditional assumptions about federal versus institutional control over academic affairs and thus have far reaching implications,” according to the November letter.

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