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What's the Big Deal About the New DoD MOU

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So what's all the fuss about the new DoD MOU?  Why all the consternation among members of higher education (hopefully not as a result of a misinformed and misguided article that many of you read that was published in mid-December 2011)?  Signing off on the New DoD MOU has been slipped to the end of March of this year. Most of the schools in-the-know, those that have been helping military students complete their degrees for quite some time now, have already signed off on the document and are waiting to continue their programs under parameters established in the new document. That gives institutions that haven't signed off on it yet, for whatever reason, a little extra time to do so. More time to wrestle it through internal legal and academic circles. So, that's good, more time is good, right? 

Some institutions are still concerned though, which really is actually unnecessary. Why unnecessary you ask?  What most schools concerned about the MOU need to remember that there's not very much in the new MOU, if anything at all, that they and their peers haven't been adhering to all these years anyway. And they aren't being asked to give up their academic sovereignty in chopping off on the document.

What the signators are doing, what they are agreeing to, in conjunction with multitudes of other institutions, as well as with distance education programs new to the oversight process, is to reiterate in one place, along with their similarly accredited peers, of their commitment to adhere to the quality criteria that Congress required DoD establish and adhere to since the early 80's (DoD MOU background).

Why is this whole issue important?  Because it is a shame that any institution might be "thinking about bailing out of the DoD VolEd program." Who would be the loser here?  Who else -- the military personnel that have been protecting our nation in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and elsewhere around the world. Do these colleges and universities really want to do that? I think not. They need to check the facts, the reason for the MOU … they need to get the real scoop before they bow out of the opportunity to serve our nation's military.

So, prior to proceeding, to set the record straight for readers, for our representatives in government, and, most particularly and most importantly, for the military students DoD and its partners in academe provide viable education programs to, none of the schools signing the MOU are "diploma mills" as some may have alluded. All are duly accredited by accrediting agencies recognized by the US government … and thus meet the same quality academic criteria of every other institution carrying the same type of accreditation that they themselves carry. Exactly the same ‘seal of approval.'  If the schools they question did not have those ‘bona fides,' and were they not properly accredited, they would not be operating on any military installation anywhere on the globe … and they would not be receiving a penny of military tuition assistance.

Another misnomer, as some have alluded, that some institutions that want to provide programs to military communities locally or worldwide are being asked to give up their academic sovereignty, "(give) up their academic standards."  That is the farthest thing from any semblance of reality. DoD and the military services go out of their ways to ensure that quality academic programs compete for entry to and are selected to provide academic programs needed by military personnel so they can perform their jobs better and more proficiently while on active duty and then to the benefit of their local communities once they leave the Service.

Without question, DoD, and the Services, want the best for our best. The criteria for selection of and invitation of any academic program onto an installation, developed and manifest in regulation (DoD Instruction 1322.25, Voluntary Education Programs) due to Congressional concern in the 1980s, establish quite concise requirements that ensure "diploma mills" are not invited to provide academic programs to our nation's military, at least not on DoD's or the Services' dime. Those suggesting anything to the contrary are off- target and are causing unnecessary angst among our nation's military personnel who should know that the institutions delivering academic programs to them on-campus, on-base, on-ship or on-line all meet the same criteria and quality expectations, as determined by their accrediting agencies. To suggest otherwise is doing our military a disservice and casting improper aspersion on a truly dedicated and quite proficient DoD and Service education leadership ... and the institutions invited to offer those programs to the military.

On another but related note, DoD never has and never will "require schools to agree to provide credit for military training, transfer credits from other schools, (or) reduce residency requirements and more."  Yes, as has been the case since the Servicemembers Opportunity College consortium (SOC) was created, members of that long-standing consortium agree to consider doing that to the fullest extent their academic senates and institutions permit; but there is no floor, there no ceiling, there is no demand for any of that. Yes the military would prefer that institutions, to minimize military students having to take the added time or to pay the price again of duplicating comparable learning they have already completed, consider doing that to the fullest they are able. But, it's not a requirement; it's not a must for them to participate in the military tuition assistance process. By signing the MOU, yes, which they must, they merely agree to try to do so to their fullest.

The military is also interested and concerned -- from a fiscal perspective -- in reducing the cost of the tuition assistance outlay (paid for by your taxes) they have to pay out on behalf of the nation. They don't want to have to spend taxpayer's dollars multiple times to validate and document the same learning … if the institutions are willing to accept American Council on Education (ACE) equivalency recommendations, fold in credits for basically the same classes from their peer institutions, accept nationally-accepted bypass exam credits similar to those that many of their own departments provide. Doing this has been an academically accepted norm across academe for a long, long time. DoD and the Services are merely asking, not demanding, that provider institutions give serious consideration to doing what many of their peers already do.

In conclusion, the new MOU pulls all of the expectations and requirements for hosting and administering the largest academic program in the world … into one document, the terms of which on-base institutions have been for the most part complying with for decades. Yes, as has long been the insistence of Congress, it includes oversight of the quality of programs for which public funds are expensed.

Yes it now includes review and oversight of distance programs offered by institutions with and those with no footprint on an installation – distance programs that now garner over 60% of an annual tuition assistance budget now in excess of a half billion dollars a year.

Yes, astute, agile, and quality programs offered by traditional and non-traditional colleges and universities, on-ground and on-line, are now all expected to comply with the same third-party review and the same quality criteria and standards that have long been the norm.

So, as I began this article, what's the fuss all about?  As taxpayers, should we expect less?

To have a better understanding of what's posted in this article, be sure to read an earlier piece on the background of the MOU published by Military.com last fall.

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