The Defense Department today announced a 90-day deadline extension for schools seeking to participate in the department's tuition assistance program.
The department has instituted a memorandum of understanding participating schools must sign to qualify to receive funding for courses service members attend under the program. The signing deadline for those schools has been shifted from Dec. 31 to March 30, 2012.
Robert L. Gordon III, deputy assistant secretary for military, community and family policy, told the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service that "the memorandum is designed to help ensure oversight in DOD-funded education, and ensure service members can make informed choices about their education."
DOD's tuition assistance program funds post-secondary education for current service members, and is separate from the veteran education benefits available through the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
About 320,000 service members across the force currently use tuition assistance, Gordon said, and tuition assistance costs totaled $545 million in fiscal 2011.
The program helps build a more ready force, he said.
"A knowledge-based force ... that continues to learn and grow, is of course more ready to defend this country," Gordon said. "It is also about ensuring that our service members are able to acquire the knowledge and the education so that once they leave the service, they can be very competitive for jobs in a 21st-century economy."
The opportunity to pursue a college degree also helps service members become self-fulfilled, he added.
While more than 1,900 schools have signed the memorandum, Gordon said, DOD officials hope the deadline extension will allow even more schools to participate, increasing the choices available to service members.
Key provisions of the memorandum require that schools provide timely course enrollment, withdrawal and cancellation information and grades, as well as an evaluated education plan outlining the courses needed for a degree.
The agreement also addresses course credit transfer, limits academic residency requirements and requires schools to evaluate military training and experience for course credit.
Military members typically change duty stations at least every three years, and may change schools more than once while pursuing a degree.
Gordon said the memorandum "focuses on the kinds of rules applied to our military service members ... ensuring that they have every opportunity to earn a degree, because of the uniqueness of the military lifestyle."
Gordon noted that service members enrolled in any Department of Education-accredited school can currently receive tuition assistance, within program guidelines. That eligibility will continue through the coming months, whether or not a service member's school has signed the memorandum, he added.