In every branch of the military and across the Defense Department overall, American Public Education Inc. — known to service members as American Military University — attracted more military tuition assistance students last year than any other school, data show.
The West Virginia-based for-profit, which led the way in the previous year’s rankings as well, is also increasing its TA population more quickly than any other school, posting a military-wide increase of more than 5,200 students from fiscal 2011 to fiscal 2012.
“Our growth is primarily due to the commitment of our current military student body to spread the word,” said Jim Sweizer, AMU’s vice president for military programs. “Our referral rate is extremely high.”
Overall, the combination of the Army and the Army National Guard logged more than 212,000 TA students in fiscal year 2012. The Air Force and Air National Guard combined for more than 108,000. The Navy had about 48,000, the Marine Corps 28,000 and the Coast Guard 10,000.
For-profit schools other than AMU are also increasing their TA student enrollments, even as the sector has faced intense criticism in Congress and on some media outlets.
Such institutions dominated our list of the 50 schools with the most tuition assistance students in fiscal 2012, easily beating public and private nonprofit schools and university systems.
For-profits accounted for just less than half of the TA students on the list, according to a Military Times analysis of data provided by each service. But more than 56 percent of the list’s TA dollars went to such schools.
The average cost per class was $745 for for-profit schools in the top 50. Public schools averaged $540, while private, nonprofit schools averaged $683.
In a June hearing, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who has been one of the leading critics of the for-profit sector, expressed concern about the amount of money that for-profits dedicate to advertising and corporate bottom lines.
After the hearing, Durbin sharply criticized the second most popular TA school in the for-profit sector, Bridgeport Education’s Ashford University.
The school was placed on notice in early 2013 by its current accrediting agency, The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, and had its application for accreditation rejected a year ago by a different agency, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
WASC questioned the school’s academic support staff; the amount of money dedicated to recruiting students, as opposed to teaching them; “rigor of coursework”; and effective tracking of student success rates.
In a five-year period, Ashford brought in 240,000 new students — while 128,000 withdrew. “This level of attrition is, on its face, not acceptable,” a letter from the agency said.
Ashford took in more than 3,000 more TA students in 2012 than in 2011, data show.
“They’re just raking in the federal dollars,” Durbin said.
Ashford spokeswoman Marianne Perez did not address the accreditation issues or Durbin’s criticism, but said in an email that the school’s “mission is to bring quality education to the military personnel, families and veterans who safeguard this nation.”
The University System of Maryland, on the strength of University of Maryland University College, led all public schools in TA students, increasing its enrollment by nearly 11 percent over the previous year.
James Selbe, a senior vice president at UMUC, said the school strives to “help students make the right decision for them, rather than the right decision for us.”