Sens. Carper, Harkin Highlight Findings of GAO Report on DOD’s Tuition Assistance Program

WASHINGTON – Today, Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security, and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, highlighted a report released today by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on potential waste, fraud and abuse of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Tuition Assistance Program. The report details GAO’s assessment of DOD’s oversight of the Tuition Assistance Program, including its ability to track complaints about schools and its level of interaction with the Department of Education.

“We want to ensure that our service members are receiving a quality education, and that the taxpayer dollars used to pay for these benefits are not being wasted,” said Sen. Carper. “At a time of record high deficits, and a rapidly increasing national debt, we need to be looking carefully at programs throughout the federal government to ensure that we are spending money effectively. Therefore, we need to closely examine the quality of education that students are receiving, to protect not just our federal dollars but also the well-being and future of our students. Nowhere is the need for this more evident than with our troops participating in the Tuition Assistance Program. Over the past year, several reports have indicated that some institutions have taken advantage of our military personnel and have failed to deliver the quality of education they promised to our men and women in uniform. The accounts of abuse range from deceptive recruitment practices, to schools’ hollow promises about transferability of credits, to students becoming saddled with unnecessary debt. This is troubling news, and it raises some serious questions about the Department of Defense’s ability to prevent against schools’ abuse of the Tuition Assistance Program. We demand so much of our men and women in uniform. We must also demand more from our schools and get better results from our government.”

“The report I released in the HELP Committee this December found that revenues from military education benefits at 20 for-profit education companies increased more rapidly than overall revenues every year between 2006 and 2010,” said Sen. Harkin. “This growth would be fine if service members and veterans were all receiving good value for their education. However, Tuition Assistance and GI Bill benefits are finite. And if schools are misleading students and serving them poorly, they are encouraging students to waste hard-earned benefits. Because of the high costs, high withdrawal rates, and high default rates among the general student population, combined with troubling stories I have heard from veterans, I am deeply concerned that that there is inadequate oversight of our nearly $30 billion in Federal aid to for-profit schools, and this report by the GAO confirms my concerns.”

The Department of Defense’s Tuition Assistance Program provides tuition assistance benefits to active duty military personnel who wish to take classes while concurrently fulfilling their active duty service requirement. In Fiscal Year 2009, 376,759 service members participated in the program and DOD spent over $517 million on the benefit. Allegations of several schools’ abuse of the program – especially concerning recruitment practices – have recently been made public in the media.

Sen. Carper is holding a hearing titled “Preventing Abuse of the Military’s Tuition Assistance Program” on Wednesday, March 2, 2011, at 2:30 p.m. to assess whether DOD has the proper structure in place to prevent against fraud and abuse of the Tuition Assistance Program by schools. As Chairman of the HELP Committee, Sen. Harkin has launched a broad-based oversight investigation to better understand how well for-profit colleges, many of which are highly profitable publicly traded corporations, are serving their students and the taxpayers who commit more than $24 billion to the schools each year. Sen. Harkin will testify on his Committee’s findings during Sen. Carper’s hearing, and more information about his investigation can be found here:

To watch a live stream of Sen. Carper’s hearing, please click HERE.

To read the full GAO report, please click HERE.