Throughout this Blog series, our goal has been to provide you with information to aid in making the decision on what and where to earn your college education, and to help in determining what is truly military friendly. To that end, the current blog submission will provide information on a new tool purported to aid Servicemembers in making the decision as to which college or university to attend.
In mid-April, the Department of Defense sent out a communication to all DoD MOU participating institutions announcing the launch of an information and comparison tool called TA (Tuition Assistance) DECIDE. The intent of this new tool is to provide Servicemembers with the ability to research and compare institutions they are seeking to attend while using DoD TA benefits. The TA DECIDE tool is certainly a step in the right direction, but it is just a first step.
The information provided by the TA DECIDE tool comes from over 2,600 post-secondary institutions that have signed the DoD MOU and from data pulled from various national repositories. These repositories include the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the DoD, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Education. This new tool launched by the DoD in April will provide some assistance to Servicemembers as they seek to pursue their postsecondary education, but there are some limitations to the tool.
First, Servicemembers will need to gain an understanding and an appreciation of the various data categories provided by the tool and make a determination as to whether the information is valuable to them in their decision making. The information displayed for any given school includes such data sets as: ED Composite score; ED 90/10 Rule; Cohort Default Rates; and retention rates for first-time, full-time students. What is the ED composite score, you may ask?
The ED composite score, according to the Department of Education (2015), is a measure of the relative financial wellness of a given institution. The scale used ranges from a negative 1.5 to a positive 3.0. An institution with a composite score of greater than or equal to +1.5 is considered in good financial health and financially responsible. Institutions in the range of +1.0 to +1.5 are considered in good financial health but requires oversight. Institutions with a score of less than +1.0 are considered not financially responsible.
Second, the relevance of the information displayed. Since the information reported to the Department of Education from IPEDS pertains to first-time, full-time students, how relevant is this information to Servicemembers who, for the vast majority of them are part-time students? How important is knowing the ED composite score to a Servicemember in their decision making on which college to attend?
As we stated, this is a first step, and a good one. Hopefully, as the DoD seeks to improve the educative experience of Servicemembers, additional information on institutions will be added to TA DECIDE like the availability of internship and experiential learning opportunities at a given school; gainful employment information – Will you be able to get a job with a degree from a particular school?; and perhaps information from Servicemembers on their actual experiences with a particular school. Time will tell, but the DoD has taken a step in the right direction to ensure Servicemembers receive the best possible education they deserve.