NAICU Washington Update

Dept. of Defense Clarifies Tuition Assistance MOU, Delays Benefit Reductions

November 06, 2011

Beginning in January 2012, colleges will need to sign memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Department of Defense in order to receive tuition assistance payments on behalf of service members. 

The new requirement grows out of broad congressional concerns about the integrity of federal student aid programs.  The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee has conducted several hearings on abuses of Department of Education student aid programs, largely focusing on institutions in the for-profit sector.  Also in the Senate, the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs has been reviewing the educational assistance provided by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

A number of institutions - particularly those serving large numbers of military students and participating in the Servicemembers Opportunity College (SOC) Consortium - have signed the new MOU.  Many others, though, have not yet decided whether they will continue to participate in the program. 

The concerns of this latter group center on some terms of the MOU that could be inconsistent with their institution's established academic and administrative practices.  These issues are not likely to be easily or quickly resolved, because they raise policy questions - such as the award of academic credit, academic residency, and education plans - with implications far beyond just the institution's interest in educating military students.

Department of Defense officials recently issued additional guidance intended to clarify the areas of the MOU that have generated most questions and concerns.

In a related development, the DoD has stepped back from plans to reduce tuition assistance benefit amounts - which currently provide service members up to $4,500 annually.  These benefits will be considered as part of a broader review of military compensation the Department is conducting to identify potential savings.  Following the Department's announcement of plans for the comprehensive review, the Marine Corps reversed its earlier decision to cut the annual benefit for Marines to $875.

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