US: For-profit online colleges dominating soldier education

For-profit online colleges are taking over higher education of the US military, lured by a Defense Department pledge of free schooling up to $4,500 a year for active members of the armed services, costing taxpayers more than $3 billion since 2000, writes Daniel Golden for Bloomberg. The schools account for 29% of college enrolments and 40% of the half-billion-dollar annual tab in federal tuition assistance for active-duty students, displacing public and private non-profit colleges, according to Defense Department and military data.

The shift is leading to educational shortcuts and over-zealous marketing, said Greg von Lehmen, chief academic officer of the University of Maryland University College in Adelphi, the adult-education branch of the state system and one of the earliest and biggest providers of military education. "In these schools, the rule is faster and easier," von Lehmen said. "They're characterised by increasingly compressed course lengths and low academic expectations. One has to ask: is the Department of Defense getting what it is seeking?"

Some online schools offer free laptops or fast degrees. At Apollo Group Inc's University of Phoenix, the biggest for-profit college, active-duty military personnel can earn an associate's degree, which typically takes two years of study, in five weeks. Taxpayers picked up $474 million for college tuition for 400,000 active-duty personnel in the year ended 30 September 2008, more than triple the spending a decade earlier, Defense Department statistics show.
Full report on the Bloomberg site