Every single college that the Department of Defense examined last year, as part of a new tuition assistance review process, was found in violation of DoD rules ― but schools won’t be punished just yet.
Marketing materials that included pictures of service members in uniform, as well as difficult-to-find tuition information, were among the more common violations noted in the 250-school review, officials with DoD’s new compliance program said Monday.
Though not necessarily made maliciously, the mistakes could hinder service members from making fully informed college choices, officials said. If the infractions are not addressed or institutions refuse to comply, they would be barred from enrolling students who use DoD tuition benefits to pay for school.
But auditors aren’t expressing significant concern at this point, and they acknowledge that DoD may be partially responsible for the large number of violations recorded.
“Frankly ... if everybody is out of step, maybe we’re out of step,” said Scott Flood, the PwC official overseeing the review program for DoD.
The most infractions any school had was 17, and “even that’s not that bad,” Flood said.
This first look at the results of DoD’s new review program was unveiled at a conference of the Council of College and Military Educators in San Diego.
The conference marks one year since DoD announced it would be switching to a new compliance program utilizing the services of PwC, also known as Pricewaterhouse Coopers.
The review process looks at the areas of marketing and recruiting, financial matters, accreditation and post-graduate opportunities. Schools are measured based on website evaluations, self- and scenario-based assessments, and surveys of students and education service officers.
Each year, PwC will evaluate 250 schools that enroll active-duty service members, with a goal of reaching every institution within three to five years.
The new review process is intended to create a culture of compliance among institutions who have signed the DoD’s memorandum of understanding — not to say “gotcha,” according to Anthony Clarke, a DoD education program analyst.
“We’re not going out on a witch hunt trying to find something wrong with your school. What we’re doing is we want to show you where there is room for improvement so that you can better serve the military family,” he said.
Of the first 250 schools reviewed, 60 percent were public, 30 percent were private and 10 percent were for-profit, closely matching the demographic breakdown of schools that have signed the MOU. DoD has not made public the names of the 250 schools that were part of the first evaluation and has previously declined to disclose this information to Military Times.
Ninety-eight percent of schools had finance-related violations — the most common among the categories evaluated.
These included a bundling of tuition and fee costs on schools’ websites, instead of a tuition-only breakdown that would be more helpful to military students. There were also discrepancies between online price listings and what schools submitted to DoD in their MOUs.
Other institutions required prospective students to provide personal contact information before releasing their costs, in violation of DoD rules.
“I wish that this was fake but, unfortunately, we saw this,” said Nathan Dyer, a PwC compliance analyst on the project.
Auditors sent feedback to schools last month, Flood said, and are waiting for schools to respond with plans for correcting the MOU violations before taking any disciplinary action.
Schools selected for the next round of evaluations will be notified soon, officials said.