Today, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, held the hearing, "Preventing Abuse of the Military's Tuition Assistance Program."
A copy of Sen. Carper's opening statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:
"As we gather here for today's hearing, our nation's debt stands at $14.1 trillion. Ten years ago on this date, it stood at less than half that amount -- $5.7 trillion. If we remain on our current course, it may double again by the end of this decade. This level of debt is simply not sustainable. In Washington, DC, we need to establish a culture of thrift, not a culture of spendthrift. We need to look in every nook and cranny of federal spending -- domestic, defense and entitlements, along with tax expenditures -- and find places where we can do more with less. This subcommittee has spent the last half-dozen years trying to do just that.
"The purpose of our hearing today is to look at yet another area of government spending and ask the question, 'Is it possible to achieve better results for less money? If not, then how can we achieve better results for the same amount of money that we're spending today?'
"Most of us understand that we can't simply cut our way out of debt, tax our way out of debt or save our way out of debt. We also need to grow our way out of debt. That means we need to invest in ways that will grow our economy and make us more competitive as a nation -- building a better educated, more productive workforce, reversing the deterioration of our nation's infrastructure and funding the kind of research and development that will enable us to out innovate the rest of the world once again.
"If we're really serious about out-innovating the rest of the world, we need to start by out-educating them. This means a major focus on early childhood education and continuing to transform our K-12 public schools so that fewer students drop out and those who do graduate are able to read, write, do math, use technology and go on to become productive members of our society. And, it means ensuring that the post-secondary education that Americans receive truly will make them more productive workers and citizens.
"For years, with our service academies, with programs like ROTC and the GI Bill, we've sought to raise the skill levels of those who serve in our armed forces, as well as the skill levels of those who later return to civilian life. In addition, we offer our active duty military another lesser know education benefit called the Tuition Assistance Program.
"Under this program, American taxpayers supply $250 per credit toward the cost of a service member's tuition for a maximum of $4,500 per year. In Fiscal Year 2000, the Department of Defense spent $157 million on tuition payments for this program. By 2009, that number had risen to $517 million, a threefold increase in just nine years.
"This program does require service members to continue their active duty service while they complete their courses. As you might expect, this requirement somewhat limits the choices available to active duty service personnel as they head out on detachments and deployments in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places around the world.
"Active duty service members have the option to enroll in distance learning courses at any school that offers such courses. For-profit schools that operate almost entirely online have become the frequent choice of many military personnel who have opted for the distance learning option. At the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the most popular school is a for-profit. This for-profit university has enrolled twice as many Dover airmen as the two local colleges that offer courses on base.
"That fact probably should come as no surprise. Since distance learning services are in high demand, for-profits have sought to fill our military's need for post-secondary education in part because of the accessibility of their classes and the variety of courses offered. While some for-profits return real value for taxpayers' money, serious questions have arisen with respect to the recruiting practices of some for-profits and to the quality of the education they provide.
"Over the past year or two, Senator Harkin's Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), have sought to put a spotlight on both of these areas. In addition, Senator Harkin's Committee found a disturbing trend in that many for-profit institutions depend heavily on federal student aid dollars, but fail to consistently provide a quality education.
"With many for-profit schools, far too many students are provided minimal instruction and support, and they drop out. Others that may actually graduate have subsequently had difficulty finding the kind of jobs that would enable them to pay off their sizeable student loans and support their families.
"The Department of Education is addressing issues of default rates and accountability in the for-profit industry through regulation.
"While some folks contend that these efforts by the Department would cut off higher education access to many of our most vulnerable citizens, I disagree with that thinking. The Department of Education's regulations would only cut off access to programs at schools that are clearly offering a bad product -- an education that costs too much, offers little instruction and training and oftentimes, saddles students with mountains of debt that is difficult, if not impossible, for them to repay.
"Currently, the incentives at many for-profit colleges are misaligned. The institutions are rewarded for enrolling more students but they have little, if any, incentive to make sure that their graduates are prepared for the workforce and are able to enter careers that enable them to manageably repay their student loan debt and begin to live the American dream.
"Having said that, let me say as clearly as I can that this is not an issue solely at for-profit institutions. There are many community colleges experiencing similar issues with extremely low degree completion rates and very high default rates. And to be fair, there are also a number of for-profit institutions that offer a quality education and have a history of success with placing students in well-paying jobs.
"Student aid spending needs to be at or near the top of our list, not just because of the amount we spend on these programs, but also because the future and dreams of our students depend on spending that money wisely. Nowhere is that need more evident than with our troops participating in the Tuition Assistance Program.
"Over the past year, several reports have described troubling stories of how some schools come close to abusing our veterans and active duty military personnel. The accounts of abuse range from deceptive recruitment practices by the school recruiters, to schools' hollow promises about the transferability of credits, to students becoming saddled with unnecessary debt.
"I have four core principles that I try to incorporate into everything I do -- treat others as you would want to be treated; if it's not perfect, make it better; never give up; always do the right thing. The idea that some schools take advantage of our service members offends all four of my core principles.
"We demand so much of our men and women in uniform and their families. We must also demand more of our schools and get better results from our government. We are here today to learn about the current safeguards against abuse of the Tuition Assistance Program, how well they work and how we can improve them. We are also here today because I believe we have a moral imperative to ensure that the Department of Defense is doing everything it can to prevent these kind of abuses."