The letter, addressed to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and dated Oct. 22, expressed the senators’ concern that the DOD had rushed to judgment. Three months later, the DOD removed the University of Phoenix from probationary status after conducting an internal review. The DOD said in a statement that findings from the review, the University of Phoenix's response to department concerns, and the cooperation of university administrators led to the decision.
“We strongly support efforts to monitor the integrity of colleges and universities serving our nation’s (service members)," the senators wrote. "However, based on our review of the relevant documents associated with this decision, we are concerned that the DOD’s decision is unfair, requires additional review, and may warrant reconsideration."
The senators stressed the importance of the DOD Tuition Assistance Program in helping active duty military personnel achieve their professional goals.
“We strongly believe that these earned benefits and educational opportunities for our servicemembers should not be jeopardized because of political or ideological opinions of some Members of Congress regarding the types of institutions that provide postsecondary education to our troops,” they wrote.
The University of Phoenix's probationary status prohibited the for-profit university from recruiting on military bases and from enrolling new students who use the military tuition assistance program.
Sens. McCain, Alexander, Ron Johnson (R-WY) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) also sent a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan in November inquiring about an interagency task force’s efforts to unfairly target the University of Phoenix and other for-profit institutions. The task force oversees for-profit higher education institutions.
“It is our understanding that this task force is comprised of at least eight federal agencies and will utilize staff and other resources of those agencies,” the senators wrote. “It is our hope that these publicly funded resources will be directed toward a fair and transparent review of issues facing for-profit and non-profit institutions, and not for a pre-conceived, political agenda to stir the pot of public perception. To do so otherwise would neither be productive nor benefit the public trust.”
The senators also expressed concern regarding the lack of information on the interagency task force’s overall authority, mission, duties and activities.
After the January pronouncement that the University of Phoenix would no longer be on probation, McCain applauded the move.
“[The] decision by the Department of Defense to reinstate the University of Phoenix’s ability to participate in DOD's Tuition Assistance Program is a victory for due process and basic fairness,” McCain said in a statement. “From the beginning, I have strongly opposed DOD’s decision to unfairly target the University of Phoenix by placing the University on probationary status without presenting supporting evidence.”
McCain went on to state that the university has been in compliance with all applicable laws, rules and regulations while providing more than 80,000 service members and veterans with post-secondary degrees. The school will, however, be subject to “a heightened compliance review” for one year.
“I hope the university will continue to serve working adults, veterans, and single parents free from ideological bias or undue political influence,” McCain said.