FORT STEWART, Ga., April 27 (UPI) -- When U.S. military personnel, veterans or their families go to college, they should have the facts necessary to make an informed choice, President Obama said.
"[Higher] education is the clearest path to the middle class," Obama said Friday at Fort Stewart in Georgia in discussing the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008. "But we've got more to do. … We've got to make sure you've got every tool you need to make an informed decision when it comes to picking a school."
While at Fort Stewart, Obama signed an executive order that will require schools to provide information about dropout rates and financial aid possibilities as well as protect military personnel, veterans and their family members from shady recruiting practices.
The executive order "will make life a whole lot more secure for you and your families and our veterans," Obama said, "and a whole lot tougher for those who try to prey on you."
"They are interested in getting the money. They don't care about you. They care about the cash," Obama said of unscrupulous recruiters.
The executive order noted the original GI Bill provided nearly 8 million Americans a chance to get a college education.
"We owe the same obligations to this generation of service men and women as was afforded that previous one," the executive order said, noting the passage of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 provides "our service members, veterans, spouses and other family members the opportunity to pursue a high-quality education and gain the skills and training they need to fill the jobs of tomorrow."
However, the executive order said, "there have been reports of aggressive and deceptive targeting of service members, veterans, and their families by some educational institutions" since the 2008 law went in effect.
Obama said he was directing his administration to develop "Principles of Excellence" to strengthen oversight, enforcement and accountability within veterans education benefits programs.
The principles should ensure that educational institutions provide meaningful information to eligible service personnel and veterans, their spouses and other family members about the financial cost, as well as prevent abusive and deceptive recruiting practices, among other things.
The executive order also creates a centralized complaint system for students receiving federal military and veterans educational benefits and a mechanism to refer the complaints to the appropriate government agency or department for appropriate action.
Before his remarks, Obama and first lady Michelle Obama made an unannounced stop at the Fort Stewart Warriors Walk, where a tree is planted for each soldier from Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Air Field who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military officials said 441 trees are planted along the walk.
The Obamas stopped and knelt at two trees, leaving a presidential coin and a folded American flag at each.
In a statement, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta praised Obama's action.
"Ensuring quality educational opportunities are available to those who have served our nation in uniform is an essential part of enabling them to compete in today's economy," Panetta said.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, suggested in a statement the executive order is unnecessary.
"Veterans should be given every opportunity to make an informed choice about their education, but choice is not dictated by imperial fiat," Miller said. "Accusing the for-profit school system of profiteering, a move designed to put fully accredited and GI Bill-approved colleges and universities -- employing thousands of educators -- out of business, is not the answer."