Chronicle of Higher Education article - July 7, 2006
SHAME ON AIU!!!!!!!!!
The military-education scene looks far different than it did even a decade ago. Newcomers include all-online, for-profit institutions like American Military University, Capella University, and Grantham University, which depend heavily on Internet advertising to get their "military-friendly" message onto the search-engine pages of prospective students.
The University of Phoenix, the biggest for-profit institution of them all, is also now a major player in the military market, due in part to its high visibility on the Internet, and to its winning a piece of two Department of Defense contracts in 2003. The contracts give it exclusive status as the on-base provider of graduate business and education degrees on every military installation in Europe, the Middle East, and the Pacific Rim.
Several entrepreneurial nonprofit institutions like Saint Leo, Troy, and Webster Universities are also stepping up their profiles, with splashy online marketing campaigns and tuition-pricing strategies tailored to the military's reimbursement rates.
For military personnel, the dynamic market creates greater choice and, thanks to the growth of online education, far greater flexibility, particularly at a time when so many military personnel are being deployed. It is also turning some little-known colleges into online giants. In a mere four years, for example, Grantham's enrollment has grown from a few hundred students to nearly 11,000, about half of whom pay for their courses through the military's tuition-assistance program.
Along with a fresh robustness, the increasingly competitive market has introduced some anxiety in the military-education arena.
The colleges offering courses today vary widely in quality. The little oversight the military is able to exercise on behalf of its service members through an accreditation-like program called the Military Installation Voluntary Education Review doesn't cover most of the new institutional entrants because it only applies to colleges that operate on bases. Meanwhile the military itself has been forced by budget constraints to cut back on its education counseling.
The service members are left "trying to negotiate this sea of institutions in a way they didn't have to 10 years ago," says J.J. Jones, a 26-year veteran of the Air Force who now directs military programs at University of Maryland University College.
Colleges with long experience in the field are not the only ones raising alarms.
Education chiefs at the military services and the educational organizations that work with them using words like "egregious," "predatory," and "duplicitous" are becoming increasingly unhappy with the high-pressure marketing tactics that some colleges are using.
These include Internet come-ons that require prospective students to provide personal data before the site lets them see information about the college's programs. Often, officials note, immediately after the students submit the data they are bombarded by recruiters' e-mail messages and even, sometimes, telephone calls.
The administrators are also concerned that some of the colleges that are most actively pursuing military students do not provide clear enough information about their accreditation. That, they say, could mislead students into wasting years taking courses, financed with taxpayer money and perhaps some of the service member's own savings or loans, only to discover that the credits will not be transferable to other colleges or recognized by a graduate school.
"We saw an awful lot of institutions coming out of the woodwork" when the military raised its reimbursement rates in 2001, says Thomas H. Beebe, director of military programs at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. "I'm not necessarily sure that a lot of them have the best interest of the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine at heart."
Mr. Beebe and seven colleagues have recently completed work on recommendations designed to curtail the marketing abuses. The recommendations were commissioned by the leaders of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges consortium, in response to complaints from the military services.
Participants in the drafting of the recommendations say they are designed to encourage colleges to be more forthcoming about their prices and offerings.
The proposals could also give the consortium more teeth for enforcement. Now, its officials must depend mostly on friendly coercion to keep colleges in line, as they did recently after receiving complaints from the military services about the high-pressure recruiting practices of Phoenix and of another for-profit institution, American InterContinental University."
Hoffman Estates, Illinois