U.S. Military to Scrutinize Online, For-profit Colleges

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The U.S. Defense Department wants to launch a new program to increase scrutiny of online, for-profit colleges that are attracting a growing number of U.S. troops.

Concerns about the quality and cost of online education rise as more military members take advantage of tuition assistance programs from the federal government, according to a Bloomberg article. Many troops are attracted to online education options because of flexible class schedules and it gives them access to college courses even while they are deployed in battle zones.

About 380,000 active-duty service members will get tuition assistance this year, according to Representative Vic Snyder, an Arkansas Democrat who chairs the House Armed Services Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee. About 40 percent of the $580 million in tuition assistance for active-duty service members in fiscal 2010 went to online, for-profit colleges and 70 percent of the total was for all online programs, Snyder said in the Bloomberg article.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education shows former students at for-profit schools default on student loans about twice as often as those from non-profit schools. "While for-profit schools have profited and prospered thanks to federal dollars, some of their students have not. Far too many for-profit schools are saddling students with debt they cannot afford in exchange for degrees and certificates they cannot use. This is a disservice to students and taxpayers, and undermines the valuable work being done by the for-profit education industry as a whole," U.S Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan said.

In award year 2008-09, students at for-profit schools represented 26 percent of the borrower population and 43 percent of all defaulters, according to a U.S Department of Education report.

Congressman Vic Snyder's subcommittee held a hearing on troops utilizing online education sites in September and hopes to draft a policy in final form as early as December. The policy would require online colleges to undergo the same reviews as ground campuses that operate on U.S. military bases, according to the Undersecretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy.

Online education programs cost about 28 percent more than comparable courses taught on ground campuses in fiscal year 2009, the Director of Force Development for the U.S. Air Force said in the Bloomberg article. He added many online programs charge the maximum per credit hour, $250, that institutions are allowed.

Minnesota U.S Senator Al Franken, a democrat, is on the record defending more scrutiny of for-profit colleges.

"We're studying these for-profit institutions for a reason ... because the numbers are so outlandish, and if we are truly talking about saving money ... we ought to be going after the low hanging fruit and that's what this appears to be.... I think we've located a place where there are (a lot) of bad actors," Franken said in a USA Today article.

The executive officer of the Career College Association, a Washington-based industry group, said, for-profit colleges would welcome quality evaluations for their military programs.


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