Pentagon puts for-profit University of Phoenix on probation

The Defense Department has announced that it has placed the University of Phoenix on probation, saying the university committed “several violations” of DoD policy, including misusing trademarked U.S. military insignia and failing to get permission from proper authorities when seeking access to military bases.

Thousands of military veterans and active duty soldiers attend the for-profit school with tuition paid for by the U.S. government, as part of the “GI Bill.”

But the school, along with other for-profit colleges, has been in the spotlight for many years, and has been criticized for deceptive marketing practices. Some critics have said the degrees they offer are not always deemed credible by employers or graduate programs. In 2012, President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting “deceptive targeting” of military veterans by for-profit schools seeking to recruit new students.

In July, the PBS NewsHour aired a report in partnership with Reveal/Center for Investigative Reporting that examined recruitment practices and allegations of misconduct by the for-profit college.

In a letter to the university dated Wednesday, Dawn Bilodeau, the Chief of Defense Department’s Voluntary Education program, pointed to the report, citing several violations by the school.

One of the violations involved the improper use of military insignia used on a coin that school representatives handed out on military bases. The coins included the insignias of every branch of the service on one side, and the University of Phoenix logo on the other.

The letter acknowledges that “corrective action” has been taken by the university, in response to these violations but that the scope of the infractions were “disconcerting.”

Bilodeau also noted that the school was under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission and the California State Attorney General. The FTC is investigating whether the University of Phoenix engaged in “deceptive or unfair practices in or affecting commerce in the advertising, marketing, or sale of secondary or postsecondary educational products or services.”

As part of the probation, university employees will not be allowed to visit military bases for the purposes of participating in recruitment-type activities, job training or career fairs, and no new soldiers can enroll in the school while receiving tuition assistance. The Pentagon also notified the school that it was considering terminating its program of providing tuition assistance all together.

Last year, more than 9,000 service members attended the University of Phoenix through the DoD Tuition Assistance program, according to the Defense Department.

Reaction among veterans to the news that the school was being put on probation was swift.

“This is huge,” said Paul Riechkoff, the executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which advocates on behalf of veterans. “This will hurt the company tremendously and send a huge shockwave across the industry.”

Tim Slottow, the President of the University of Phoenix, said in a statement that the university is cooperating with federal and state agencies. “We will continue to hold ourselves to the highest standards of accountability, transparency, ethics and compliance,” he said.

Reickhoff was more direct about the behavior of the University of Phoenix, and the effect of this DOD decision: “They stalk and recruit on bases. … This (announcement) cuts off their flow of troops to exploit.”

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