By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 12, 2011 - All schools participating in Title 10 tuition assistance will have to have a signed memorandum of understanding with the Defense Department under a new policy that will take effect Jan. 1.
Carolyn Baker, chief of voluntary education for DOD's military community family and policy office, explained to American Forces Press Service what the agreement covers.
"The MOU articulates the commitments and agreements between an educational institution and DOD prior to an institution accepting funds via the tuition assistance program," she said, adding that some schools already have begun the process of signing the memorandum.
DOD's tuition assistance program helps active-duty service members pay for college courses. The program covers undergraduate and most graduate courses delivered through on-line distance learning or traditional classroom instruction.
A voluntary education joint service review committee developed one standard document to replace the separate services' tuition assistance agreements, Baker said.
Under the new agreement, "The institution ... must agree to one single tuition rate per Office of Post-Secondary Education identification number," she said. "What this means is that institutions cannot charge service members different tuition rates to attend the same class."
The agreement requires that schools be accredited by an agency recognized by the Department of Education, abide by DOD and military service regulatory guidance on voluntary education, and adhere to the principles and criteria established by the Servicemembers' Opportunity Colleges, Baker said.
Key issues addressed in those principles include reasonable transfer of credit to avoid course work duplication and excessive loss of previously earned credit; required academic residency limited to no more than 25 percent of degree requirements, or 30 percent for undergraduate degrees offered 100 percent online; credit for military training and experience; and credit for at least one nationally recognized testing program, such as the College-Level Examination Program.
Schools also must agree to provide timely course enrollment, withdrawal and cancellation information and grades, as well as an evaluated education plan outlining the courses needed for a degree, Baker said.
The agreement includes addendums outlining how tuition assistance is administered in each of the services, she said.
The new policy also requires all schools accepting tuition assistance dollars to participate in a periodic third-party review. DOD is committed to providing programs and services that support, sustain and improve quality of life for service members, Baker said, and the review process will address accountability and quality of education they receive using tuition assistance.
The agreement does not obligate funds or guarantee enrollment or access to military installations, she said. Schools offering courses on military posts or bases must have an additional, separate agreement with installation commanders permitting access and on-base instruction.
The policy states that any school without a signed memorandum after Jan. 1 will not be able to enroll students using tuition assistance funds, she said. Schools can review and sign the memorandum at http://apps.mhf.dod.mil/voled.
A list of schools that have signed the agreement will be posted to the site, so military students receiving tuition assistance can see if prospective schools have signed the memorandum, Baker said.
Service members who have concerns about an institution that has signed the agreement can submit their question or complaint to DOD through the site. A centralized process will record the issue, work on a resolution, track the status and provide a response, Baker said.
She said the department has been working with schools that receive the greatest share of tuition assistance funds, and those institutions are aware of what the memorandum will require of them.
"We might find some institutions out there that have not been timely, or they don't agree to all of the terms of the memorandum. So we're going to have to work with service members enrolled in those schools," she said.
Baker said DOD is committed to offering comprehensive, lifelong learning opportunities for service members, and the new policy will ensure a viable program is in place to assist them in realizing those opportunities.
DOD Voluntary Education Program