U.S. military commanders allowed representatives of the University of Phoenix to erect banners advertising the for-profit college on one of America’s largest military bases and place promotional materials in high-traffic areas. Credit: Adithya Sambamurthy for Reveal

The Department of Defense said today that it would suspend the University of Phoenix from its tuition assistance programs and bar school officials from recruiting at military facilities, including job fairs, after revelations of improper recruiting and marketing practices by the for-profit school.

An investigation by Reveal exposed how the university paid the military for exclusive access to bases – violating the intent of an executive order – held recruitment events designed as résumé workshops and included military insignias without the required permission on custom-engraved “challenge coins” handed out by recruiters.

The revelations drew outrage from some members of Congress who pressed the Pentagon to investigate.

The results of that investigation were made public today, albeit quietly, when the Defense Department changed the status of all of the university’s campuses to on probation on its website of participating institutions. Last year, the University of Phoenix received $20 million in military tuition assistance from the Pentagon.

In a written statement to Reveal announcing that the university had been placed on probationary status, Dawn Bilodeau, chief of the Defense Department’s voluntary education program, said students currently receiving tuition assistance will be allowed to complete courses already underway.

“While in a probationary status and with a view to minimizing harm to students, educational institutions will be permitted to ‘teach-out,’ ” she said.

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The University of Phoenix produced a custom-engraved coin for recruiters to hand out on military bases. The official seals of the Department of Defense and every branch of the military are on one side of the coin; the college’s logo is on the other. Credit: Adithya Sambamurthy/Reveal

Bilodeau also said the university “will not be authorized access to DoD installations for the purposes of participating in any recruitment-type activities, including but not limited to job training, and career events and fairs. Further, no new or transfer students at the institution will be permitted to receive DoD tuition assistance.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., one of the leading congressional voices calling for an investigation into the University of Phoenix, hailed the Pentagon’s actions.

“This is a decisive action by the Department of Defense to protect servicemembers and taxpayers from a company that offers degrees of questionable value,” he said. “With below-average graduation rates and a student loan default rate almost forty percent higher than the national average, the University of Phoenix is going to have a hard time explaining why students should continue to enroll in this institution.”

Durbin also said he would ask the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Veterans Affairs to review the Defense Department’s findings and take actions to protect other government funds. The college has received more than $1.2 billion in GI Bill money since 2009.

Previously, the University of Phoenix has stated that it would not respond to questions because Reveal’s past reporting “left us unconvinced that fair, balanced, fact-based reporting that allows us to tell our side of the story (is) likely to happen here.”

Ryan Rauzon, the university’s spokesman, could not be reached immediately for comment.

Bobby Caina Calvan

Bobby Caina Calvan is the collaborations editor for Reveal. He was most recently director of operations for The Fund for Investigative Journalism, a Washington-based nonprofit that awards grants to freelance and independent investigative journalists. He thrives on watchdog journalism. He's worked in some of the country's best newsrooms, including The Associated Press, The Boston Globe, The Sacramento Bee and the Detroit Free Press. He's covered the war in Iraq, the national debate over health care, the 2012 presidential race and other high-profile elections.

While Calvan has worked in some of the country's biggest news outlets, his roots are firmly in local news. His career transcends platforms, and he has produced stories for print, digital, radio and television. He spent a year on a journalism diversity initiative in Nebraska called The Heartland Project, where he spearheaded collaborations with newsrooms across the state to enhance coverage of communities of color and LGBT issues. Inclusive journalism is in his DNA, and so is his strong advocacy for mentoring the next generation of journalists.

Calvan grew up on a dairy farm at the foot of the Ko'olau Mountains in Waimanalo, Hawaii – which might explain why he spent his first year of college at New York University and followed his sense of adventure into a career in journalism. He completed his college career at the University of California, Berkeley, where he majored in legal studies. He is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.