Tuesday, September 04, 2012

TOP STORY >> Tuition rules will help students

Leader staff writer

New federal guidelines will help ensure students receive a quality education without going into massive debt, an education leader said.

Melody Toney, the education and training section chief at the Jacksonville-Little Rock Air Force Base Joint Education Center, spoke to the Cabot Rotary Club on Tuesday about the new rules.

Toney oversees the tuition assistance program for service members, veterans, their spouses and other family members.

The new rules were issued via an executive order from President Barack Obama, she said.

The goal of the order is to strengthen oversight, enforcement and accountability involving benefit programs that help service members, veterans and their families with tuition and fees.

Toney said the federal government wants to stop schools from encouraging people to take out institutional loans rather than applying for federal student loans first, recruiting new students with inappropriate gifts and failing to provide them with information like graduation rates and other indicators of how successful the school has been.

Another goal is to prevent schools from recruiting individuals with serious brain injuries and emotional problems without providing them academic support and counseling.

Toney said the order establishes a centralized office to deal with complaints and those complaints are sent up the chain of command to be taken care of.

The Defense Department, Department of Veterans Affairs, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other agencies will address the complaints.

She said one of the new rules is that the schools must tell potential students the total cost of their programs.

“They have to know up front how much the degree is,” Toney said.

The schools must also inform students how much of that is covered by federal benefits, what type of aid they may qualify for, their estimated student loan debt upon graduation, how many students finish the programs and other facts that may help them compare educational institutions, she said.

If a student has to miss class temporarily or put off their studies to fulfill their service duties, such as being deployed, the schools must readmit them to the program, she said.

They have to provide an educational plan for each student too, Toney said.

The schools will also be required to put in place a standard refund policy, she added.

They must accept credit cards and may be reviewed by a third-party company, she continued.

Toney also shared an overview of the joint education center, which opened in January 2011. The old facility, she said, was a 1950s barracks.

Construction of the $14.8 million center on Vandenberg Boulevard in Jacksonville was funded by the Air Force and a city sales tax that raised $5 million.

She said the center has $72,000 worth of furniture and 783 parking spaces.

Six colleges — Arkansas State University-Beebe, the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, Park University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Southern Illinois and Webster University — provide several degree programs.

Toney said the campus offers the only certified upholstery class in the South that students can receive credit for.

She also said Jacksonville High School students are attending classes and earning college credit from the center this semester.

The campus is looking into adding more degree programs through ASU-Beebe, Webster and Park universities, Toney said.

The new facility also allowed the campus to have morning and afternoon classes, she added.