The Defense Department has barred one of the top college destinations for active-duty service members from participating in tuition assistance, citing national security concerns.
DoD’s ban on the University of Management and Technology accepting tuition assistance benefits, commonly known as TA, is a huge blow to the online, for-profit school, where military-affiliated students make up the majority of the student population, according to the most recent federal data available.
Air Force Maj. Carla Gleason, a DoD spokeswoman, said in an email that DoD had investigated allegations that UMT was not in compliance with its memorandum of understanding, a document all institutions must sign to qualify for tuition assistance funds.
“This inquiry revealed that UMT staff acted in a manner that warrants termination of UMT’s MOU, including on national security grounds,” she said.
UMT officials they said they believe the action to be “unfounded.”
DoD put UMT on probationary status in January, suspending any new TA usage at the school, though students whose classes had already been paid for with the benefit could continue their coursework. The school appealed the department’s decision but was denied by the deputy undersecretary of defense on March 20.
The denial of that appeal represents “the final agency action on this matter,” Gleason said.
While the Defense Department has taken action against several ― mostly for-profit ― schools in recent years, those actions have typically been related to marketing or academic issues. “National security” concerns have not been frequently associated with voluntary education.
DoD did not comment on its specific findings against UMT. When asked for an example of how a college could jeopardize national security, Gleason said, in general, it could mean that a school is not safeguarding sensitive information pertaining to military personnel.
UMT officials also declined to disclose any specific reasons the DoD cited in its termination notice.
“UMT was disappointed that the Department of Defense suspended its participation in the Tuition Assistance program before UMT had any notice or opportunity to respond,” UMT Academic Dean J. Davidson Frame, said in an emailed statement. “Many of our students had to scramble to take out loans or dig into their own savings so that their educational progress would not be derailed.”
One UMT student, who spoke with Military Times on the condition of anonymity, said he learned of the DoD’s initial decision to suspend the school’s TA privileges in an email from his service branch’s TA office.
The student told Military Times this was the first negative thing he’d heard about the school, including from other service members he knows who also attended the northern Virginia university.
“I had no concerns. This was all out of the blue,” he said. Of the DoD’s stated national security justification, he said, “That’s pretty vague.”
The student, who paid for three courses out of pocket this term, said he was surprised to learn this week that the school’s appeal had been denied. As of Thursday, he had not yet been notified by the school of the DoD’s final decision, he said.
UMT did not comment by press time on whether school officials had notified students. As of the publication of this article, UMT’s website still lists TA among the military tuition benefits that can be used at the institution.
According to a Military Times analysis of federal data, UMT was the 27th most popular college destination for students using TA benefits in fiscal 2016. Education Department figures show the school had 3,277 total students in the 2015-16 school year, the most recent for which data is available. Of those, 54 percent used TA to pay for classes.
“The University of Management and Technology has provided high-quality educational opportunities to thousands of military students over the past two decades,” Frame said in the email. Figures provided by UMT put its military and veteran alumni count at more than 3,000 — a sizeable chunk of its 12,000-plus total graduates.
The school is working to resolve the issue and hopes to be reinstated into the TA program as soon as possible, UMT’s statement said. Meanwhile, it “is committed to working with active duty military students to explore other avenues for funding their ongoing educational programs. Some of our military students were nearing the end of their studies when the Department of Defense announced its decision, and we are working with them to help them complete their programs.”
Frame said the school is “engaged in discussion with DoD to see how we can move forward.” It is unclear what those discussions entail; Gleason said from the department’s standpoint, there are no appeals or other actions pending.
She said DoD professional education counselors are available by phone and in person to discuss students’ options with them — whether it be transferring to a new institution or pausing their studies.
“Our education counselors can work with students to compare educational institutions that are approved for TA, and discuss the tuition costs, accreditation, and degree programs of educational institutions using DoD-supported information tools such as TA DECIDE,” she said.