New DOD System Safeguards Education Benefits
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2014 The Defense Department launched a new postsecondary education complaint system today to help in protecting tuition assistance and military spouse career advancement account users from educational institutions with unfair or deceptive practices.
Dawn Bilodeau, chief of voluntary education for the Defense Department, discussed the rollout of the complaint system during an interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel.
“The complaint system is a tool meant to empower military tuition assistance, and military spouse career advancement account benefit recipients,” she said. “[It’s] so that they can provide information on potentially unfair or deceptive practices that they’ve experienced with educational institutions in the use of their benefits.”
The new system, she said, is based on President Barack Obama’s executive order establishing “principles of excellence” for educational institutions to follow when serving military members, veterans and their families.
“There have been reports of unfair, deceptive, misleading practices by educational institutions,” Bilodeau said. “This effort is a combined interagency effort to consolidate and provide a comprehensive tool for students to provide feedback. This is a centralized mechanism for them to provide feedback, not only about the programs that their enrolling in, but the way that they’re being treated by educational institutions.”
Previously, Bilodeau said, people who had negative experiences with an educational institution would seek resolution by going to their local education center or service representative. Some of the issues, she explained, dealt with false claims about degree programs and misleading statements about accreditation at the institution.
“It could have even been aggressive marketing, to include multiple unsolicited phone calls or emails, aggressive recruiting, [or] high-pressure tactics against the service member or their family,” she said.
Bilodeau noted that the complaint system is an interagency effort, and that the Education and Veterans Affairs departments and the Consumer Protection Bureau also have complaint systems available.
This effort also includes the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department, when necessary, she said, as she encouraged students to report their experiences.
“The pooling of all of those complaints can help to inform other students who are going to those universities so that they can make informed choices about where they want to go to school and what programs they want to enroll in,” she said.
Bilodeau said the complaint system also provides the federal government with a way to identify and take action, if necessary, against educational institutions exhibiting in misrepresentative or predatory types of behavior.
Some 280,000 students use tuition assistance and military spouse career advancement account benefits annually, Bilodeau said. The programs fund almost 870,000 courses at educational institutions. “The Department of Defense has a partnership or agreement with over 3,000 institutions [and] that also helps to enforce principles of excellence in those universities,” she added.
Bilodeau said this new DOD complaint system is designed to empower service members and their families and provide assurances that a negative experience with an institution will be addressed.
“I just want to reiterate that we’re really excited about this initiative,” she added. “The launch of the complaint system is a brand-new vehicle. It empowers service members and their families when they do experience negative experiences with an educational institution to report those and gain some resolution for not only themselves, but future people that may be attending or choosing to attend those institutions.”
The all-of-government effort, she added, includes the capability and the means to provide law enforcement action when misleading or deceptive actions by educational institutions are discovered.
(Follow Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)