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Military Tuition Assistance (TA) Programs since the Post 9/11 Bill help service members and their families with everything from training and testing for professional certificates to advanced college degrees. The Department of Defense has aided almost 400,000 vets and service members since the Post-9/11 Bill went into effect in August 2009, according to the American Legion.

The TA offers a variety of programs depending on the individuals needs and combat service. They do everything from help educate the family to helping veterans transition into the workforce.

Vets pursuing educational goals are usually eligible for educational assistance in most states, too. Many of the 57 colleges and universities and over 175 private career schools in Maryland have a full-time student veteran coordinator, including Towson University, University of Maryland, College Park, Morgan State University, Prince George’s Community College, Howard Community College and Bowie State University.

Veteran Resource Centers are on campus at these and other schools, including Montgomery College, with its "Combat2College" Program. The University of Maryland, College Park obtained a grant in 2010 from the U.S. Department of Education to establish a Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success. (Search the Maryland Higher Education Commission at www.mhec.state.md.us for "Veterans' Education and Training" or www.mdva.state.md.us/state/education.html).

Strengthening Programs & Making Choices More Transparent

In recent years, there's been rapid growth in the amounts of VA GI Bill benefits and DoD TA funds going to for-profit post-secondary institutions. With that comes new scrutiny from veteran service organizations and policymakers who are dissatisfied with graduation rates, recruiting practices, transferability of credits and lack of accountability.

On April 27, the president signed Executive Order 13607: "Establishing principles of excellence for educational institutions serving service members, veterans, spouses and other family members." The principles were developed to strengthen oversight, enforcement, and accountability of education programs, and to ensure that service members, veterans, and their families have the information they need to make informed decisions concerning their well-earned educational benefits.

The Principles of Excellence are guidelines for educational institutions that receive funding from GI Bill, TA, or MyCAA. Schools are asked to participate. The principles provide some basic protections for student-service members, and participation by schools includes:

1. Providing information about the total cost of the educational program, including amount of debt owed on any student loans after graduation.

2. Informing veterans about other forms of financial aid before advising them of private student loans.

3. Ending fraudulent and unduly aggressive recruiting techniques on and off military installations.

4. Obtaining approval of the state accrediting agency for new courses prior to enrollment.

5. Allowing service members to be readmitted if they had to suspend their attendance temporarily due to military service requirements.

6. Agreeing to a refund policy when veterans withdraw prior to course completion.

7. Providing a plan that details all the requirements needed for program completion and the time it will take to complete them.

8. Designating a person(s) to provide counseling with regard to academics, financial aid, disabilities and job searches.

(List thanks to the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Veteran's Administration.)

Foreign schools, high schools, on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs, residency and internship programs, and schools that do not charge tuition and fees were not asked to comply with the Principles of Excellence.

Compliance With the Principles of Excellence

Though the executive order was just issued in late April, area schools have already agreed to comply. According to the VA, the list currently includes major institutions such as the University of Maryland schools, Georgetown University and American University. Other Maryland schools on the list include Capitol College, College of Southern Maryland, Frostburg State University, Goucher, Hood College, Loyola University, McDaniel, Montgomery College, Morgan State, Mount St. Mary's, Prince George's Community College, Washington Adventist University, and Stevenson University, among others. A current list can be found at www.gibill.va.gov.

"A Bold First Step"

Ryan M. Gallucci is a deputy director at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). In his May 2012 testimony before the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity in Congress, he cited GAO and Senate investigations that indicated certain institutions of higher learning recruited military and veteran students into their programs with no intention of conferring relevant educational credentials.

He mentioned the perceived waste of taxpayer dollars for fund military and veterans’ education programs that aren't working. The VFW avidly supported the president's Executive Order, as "a bold first step in ensuring our veterans receive the quality education we promised," he testified.

"The VFW recognizes that Executive Order #13607 is just the first step in ensuring our student-veterans have the consumer education and consumer protection resources they need to succeed in higher education… We hope that the executive order will motivate Congress to quickly move legislation through both the House and Senate to protect our nation’s investment and ensure success for our student-veterans," Gallucci said.

The Goal – Savvy Education Consumers

In May 2012 legislative testimony, Steve Gonzalez, assistant director of the American Legion said that the "(Executive order's) provisions focus on ensuring students have the proper information, support, and protections they need to make informed decisions about their educational options."

He cited predatory practices of some institutions with military educational benefits and added, "Even though the abuses are considered by many as isolated incidents, nevertheless, they are incidents of grave concern when post-secondary institutions take advantage of America’s service members, veterans and their families."

The ultimate goal, he said, is to provide information to allow service members, veterans, and their family members to be savvy consumers when choosing a college or university.

"(The executive order) is one portion of the overall effort in aiding decision-makers and encouraging prospective service members, veterans, and their family members to consider certain criteria as an important component of their college choice," said Gonzalez.

An Enormous and Important Need

As U.S. conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, over two million troops will be withdrawn from those theaters. Over a million active-duty military personnel are projected to become veterans over the next five years, according to the VA's 2012 budget numbers. Veterans will return home seeking degrees and new skills, and their service to America has earned them substantial educational benefits.

Active-duty military are also combining their service with higher education. According to the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, in 2011, 751,000 active-duty military took advantage of their TA benefits by enrolling in undergrad programs. More than 41,223 degrees and more than 3,300 graduate degrees were awarded.