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If you're a servicemember looking for or receiving education benefits, then please read on. Your school must have a signed Voluntary Education Partnership Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on file with the Department of Defense (DoD), or tuition assistance can't be issued and you'll have to pay for the courses another way.

In 2011, the DoD announced that it was requiring all institutions participating in the Military Tuition Assistance (TA) program to have an MOU with the DoD. Originally the deadline was January 1, 2012, but in December, the DoD announced that it was providing a 90-day extension for institutions to sign the MOU until March 30, 2012. Institutions that offer programs to service members on campus, on base, on ship, and at a distance must sign and comply with the MOU by then. If schools do not sign the MOU, they will no longer be able to collect military tuition assistance from their military students.

According to Carolyn Baker, chief of DoD voluntary education programs, the quality of education received by service members is very important to the DoD. In releases and updates about the issue, she said the 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.

The DoD MOU covers all US armed forces, including Reserve and National Guard components, DoD Education and Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges.

What It Says:

By signing the MOU, postsecondary educational institutions agree to several specific commitments and agreements with the DoD, including the following:

1. Adhere to and execute Service members Opportunity Colleges (SOC) principles and criteria.

2. Participate in an established Military Voluntary Education Review process.

3. Provide the same tuition cost for all service members enrolled in the same course, regardless of the service component.

4. Recognize, accept, and award credit where appropriate, from the Army/American Council on Education Registry Transcript System, the Sailor/Marine American Council on Education Registry Transcript System, and the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) transcript as the official sources of military training and experience documentation with corresponding college credit recommendations, when processing an individual's documented education plan.

5. Provide an evaluated educational plan to the service member and his or her service.

6. Provide course enrollment, course withdrawal, course cancellation, course completion or failure, grade, verification of degree completion to the service issuing tuition assistance.

7. Be accredited by a regional or national accrediting agency.

All institutions receiving military TA must sign an MOU agreeing to follow these principles. Other elements involve billing system criteria, transparency guidelines and information dissemination regulations.

No Tuition Assistance Without an MOU

“When a school signs the MOU with the Department of Defense, it means the school agrees to accept funds through the service's Tuition Assistance (TA) programs in payment for educational services,” said Elaine Entersz, assistant registrar at Hood College and a Veterans Affairs school certifying official. “If a military student wishes to use tuition assistance to pay for classes, the school has to meet several requirements in order to qualify to be able to accept that assistance.”

Entersz said the schools have to participate in an education review process, and provide an educational plan for each student using TA, along with information regarding enrollment, course and degree completion. Schools also must use a billing process that complies with regulations.

Hood College has signed the MOU. “We make every effort to work with servicemembers using all types of aid,” said Entersz. Hood has students that are active duty and retired/discharged collecting benefits under the Post/911 GI Bill, Chapters 30, 31, 33, 35, 1606 and 1607. Hood is a Yellow Ribbon School and has a Military Friendly designation. Entersz said that Hood has approximately 90 students designated as military or military dependent.

What the MOU Does Not Do

The MOU does not obligate funds or guarantee program enrollments by DoD military personnel, their eligible adult family members, DoD civilian employees or retirees in an educational institution's academic programs.

It also doesn't grant access onto military installations to market, counsel students or provide instruction. Any institution has to have permission from the installation commander, coordinated with the installation's education advisor, to conduct business prior to entering an installation.

A Need for Standards

The process began in 2005 when John Molino, then deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy, formed a task force to develop standards for distance learning programs being offered by educational institutions with no physical presence on military installations. It was obvious then that with multiple deployments and rapidly changing technology, more and more service members were using military tuition assistance for college programs taken at a distance. The DoD predicted demand to increase, as it has done. In the early 1990s schools were receiving about 10 percent of their tuition assistance income from distance programs. By the mid ‘90s, it had risen to about 25 percent. James Sweizer, vice president of military programs at American Public University System (APUS) said that online learning is now the most popular education method for the military. “Today, 71 percent go online regularly for education,” he said. “Online programs have really allowed everyone to go anywhere and finish their degree.”

APUS has 106,000 total students, of which Sweizer said about 60 percent are active duty military, Guard or Reserve. “They don't pay a dime for their application fee or education, and we provide them books. They pay nothing until they are ready to graduate.” APUS offers over 80 degree programs.

The criteria the task force developed and eventually were adopted are applicable to any type of course delivery, from a university classroom to on a base or a ship or a distance learning classroom. The goal is to ensure the highest quality of the DoD education program as a whole.

“Most schools that have been working with military students for many years and helping them complete their degrees have already signed the MOU and are already complying with most if not all of the parameters,” said Sweizer. “For those of us who've been in business for a long time, it's nothing earth-shattering. They standardized language, put in new reporting requirements and accountability, and made statistics more transparent. They basically made it fair for everyone.

“If you're serving service members and their education needs, you really should sign the agreement,” said Sweizer. “After all, our military personnel would be the ones that lose out.”

For a Complete List of Participating Institutions

Go to www.dodmou.com/InstitutionList.aspx for a list of educational institutions and their sub-campuses. As of February 8, there were 1,893 parent institutions that had signed MOUs with the DoD, and 2,936 sub-institutions. Maryland schools included:

• Anne Arundel Community College

• Bowie State University

• Capitol College

• College of Southern Maryland

• DeVry University

• Fortis Institute

• Frederick Community College

• Hagerstown Community College

• Harford Community College

• Hood College

• Prince George's Community College

• Stevenson University

• Strayer University

• University of Maryland University College

• Washington Bible College/Capital Bible Seminary

• Washington College


FOR MORE INFORMATION:

• www.dodmou.com

For a sample Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreement, application data, announcements and an up-to-date list of participating institutions.

• www.soc.aascu.org

Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges provide educational opportunities to service members who move frequently and still want to complete college degrees.

• www.goarmyed.com

A virtual gateway for all active duty, National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers to request tuition assistance online, anytime, anywhere for classroom and distance learning.

• www.navycollege.navy.mil

This site provides sailors and their families with information on opportunities to earn college degrees through a variety of options.

• www.usmc-mccs.org/education/lll.cfm

All about the U.S. Marine Corps Voluntary Education Program, which provides information on completing a high school education, earning an equivalency diploma, improving academic skills or level of literacy, and enrolling in vocational and technical schools.