For-profit universities and colleges are under an unflattering spotlight once again as congressional lawmakers and Department of Defense officials explore whether they are exploiting the military's tuition assistance program.
DOD estimates that in fiscal year 2010 it spent $580 million for 380,000 active-duty service members to take college courses. Approximately 40 percent of that funding went to for-profit colleges, 70 percent of which paid for online courses. Distance learning is appealing to service members because they can take online courses at their convenience, an ideal scenario for soldiers deployed in battle zones. But questions have arisen over the quality of for-profit online courses and whether for-profit institutions take advantage of service members and the taxpayer dollars that pay for those courses.
The Defense Department has proposed a new regulation that would expand the Military Installation Voluntary Educational Review (MIVER) program to include online programs in addition to the programs on military installations that it assesses. It also would require institutions offering online programs to sign a memorandum of understanding if they want to receive military tuition assistance reimbursement.
The rule, which is in the Federal Register for comment, could go into effect in December. Robert Gordon III, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, told a House Armed Services subcommittee in September that the rule would enable DOD to monitor the quality of online programs to ensure that they are sufficiently rigorous.
According to Dr. Susan Aldridge, president of the University of Maryland University College, MIVER assessments are comprehensive and include interviews with students and faculty. UMUC, the largest provider of education for the military, has a memorandum of understanding with the Defense Department to offer classes on more than 100 military installations in the U.S., Europe, Asia and file Middle East.
"When an assessment is done on our face-to-face classes, the assessment teams are also able to assess our online programs and students," Aldridge says. "But these other institutions are receiving tens of millions of dollars from the Defense Department and there is no quality oversight."
Because many for-profits offering online courses to service members are not located on military installations and have not been subject to similar review, she says, quality oversight between those institutions and traditional, regionally accredited institutions is inconsistent. …