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DoD unveils new agreement for colleges

Dec. 6, 2012 - 05:24PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 6, 2012 - 05:24PM  |  
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Colleges and universities will not have to adopt particular military-friendly policies, but instead simply disclose whether or not they have such policies, to remain eligible for military tuition assistance under new rules announced by the Defense Department.

In a long-awaited revision of its Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, on education for service members, the Defense Department sought to alleviate concerns expressed by schools — particularly public colleges and universities — that the first version's requirements went too far.

"I anticipate that there will be a warmer reception, because the institutions of higher education that had concerns in the beginning, they actually assisted us in writing the verbiage in the MOU," Carolyn Baker, chief of continuing education programs at DoD, said in a telephone interview.

Baker said DoD does not intend to make life "difficult" for schools. "We just want to protect our service members."

The first draft of the MOU asked schools to adhere to the policies of Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges, or SOC, a military-oriented consortium of schools that some major public research institutions have not joined. The memorandum was met by a backlash from schools, academic organizations and some members of Congress.

The new version, Baker said, will allow schools to sign the MOU either as members of SOC or as non-members. Schools that sign as non-members will merely have to reveal their policies on a host of issues of particular concern to service members, such as credit transfer policies, program costs, academic residency requirements, and rules governing service members who need to drop classes or re-enroll because of military duty.

Baker said no new requirements were added to the revised version, but some language was strengthened, particularly to curb aggressive recruiting practices.

Early reviews of the policy were mixed.

"It is a step significantly in the right direction," said Daniel Elkins, an official with Veterans of Foreign Wars. He added that he thought private, for-profit schools would have an easier time adhering to the rules than traditional public schools.

Michelle Mott, an official with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said the revision addresses some of her group's concerns, "but we are still worried that some of the requirements will clash with current academic policies and pose problems for some well-intentioned schools."

The Pentagon may also be in line for criticism that it went too far to satisfy schools that opposed the first MOU.

Jeff Cropsey, a longtime DoD education official who now works for Grantham University, a for-profit school based in Kansas City, Mo., said he thinks the revised version weakens protections for service members.

"If the net effect is that you can get tuition assistance whether you adhere to SOC principles or you don't, then what is the purpose of the MOU?" asked Cropsey, whose school signed the first MOU.

Schools that signed the first MOU do not have to sign the second, but they can if they would rather abide by the revised version, Baker said. Schools that did not sign the first one must sign the second by March 1. If they do not, any class that starts after that deadline will not be eligible for tuition assistance.

The Defense Department is also tasked with writing a third memorandum, based on an April 2012 executive order from President Obama. Defense officials have said that the third MOU will be released in 2013. Baker said she didn't know exactly when it would be ready but added that DoD is working to get it out as soon as possible.

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