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The Pentagon has developed new rules to ensure that service members are treated fairly when they use government money to attend college. The rules are set to go into effect next month, but many of the nation's best-known schools say they can't accept the new requirements.
As NPR's Larry Abramson reports, the dispute puts at risk millions of dollars in federal assistance.
LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: All year long, military advocates have warned that some schools see servicemen and women as walking dollar signs. Federal money for active-duty students is particularly attractive to for-profit schools, which have been signing up members of the services in record numbers.
At a hearing in September, Senator Jim Webb of Virginia said colleges need to provide more information, so these students know what kind of school they're attending and whether they can succeed there.
SENATOR JIM WEBB: Total cost of program, transferability of credits, default rates, graduation rates, job placement rates upon graduation are a few ways to ensure transparency.
ABRAMSON: The Defense Department says we've been listening, and we're cracking down. Starting January 1st, schools will have to sign a special memorandum before they can receive what's known as tuition assistance for active military. Schools must charge military and civilian students the same tuition. They have to give students a clear education plan, and they have to try to give students academic credit for some of their military training. That last point raised eyebrows at places like the University of California, where Lawrence Pitts is provost.
LAWRENCE PITTS: U.C. has a very careful process for reviewing courses taken outside of U.C.
ABRAMSON: Pitts says he cannot promise in advance that U.C. campuses will give credit for military training. His schools want to review training courses one by one. So like other prestigious public and private universities, U.C. says it will not sign that memorandum.
PITTS: If we did that on a regular basis, we would have a number of students ill-prepared and not be able to take full advantage of university education at U.C.
ABRAMSON: Many for-profit schools, however, have signed up. They say this shows they're more in tune with the needs of nontraditional students, like those in the service. Brian Moran of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities says his for-profit members are happy to recognize military training.
BRIAN MORAN: It's something that we feel is important to these service members, and we embrace a seamless transferability of credit in recognition of the experience of active service military as well.
ABRAMSON: The fact that military money might be headed to more for-profit schools is particularly annoying to people like Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. Harkin's committee has held hearings highlighting what he says are aggressive recruiting practices by for-profits, some targeting the more than $500 million annually in tuition assistance.
SENATOR TOM HARKIN: One has to ask: Why is it that all the good schools are not signing the memorandum of understanding and all the bad actors are?
ABRAMSON: The Defense Department would not comment. Military service groups have been outraged at the idea that students could not use their tuition assistance dollars at hundreds of recognized colleges. They've written to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, asking him to put these new rules on hold. They've been joined by 52 senators from both parties. Some colleges say if the issue isn't resolved, they'll try to find money elsewhere so members of the military can stay in school. Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington.
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