Distance Education:

Growth in Distance Education Programs and Implications for Federal Education Policy

GAO-02-1125T: Published: Sep 26, 2002. Publicly Released: Sep 26, 2002.

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Increasingly, the issues of distance education and federal student aid intersect. About one in every 13 postsecondary students enrolls in at least one distance education course, and the Department of Education estimates that the number of students involved in distance education has tripled in just 4 years. As the largest provider of financial aid to postsecondary students, the federal government has a considerable interest in distance education. Overall, 1.5 million out of 19 million postsecondary students took at least one distance education course in the 1999-2000 school year. The distance education students differ from other postsecondary students in a number of respects. Compared to other students, they tend to be older and are more likely to be employed full-time while attending school part-time. They also have higher incomes and are more likely to be married. Many students enrolled in distance education courses participate in federal student aid programs. As distance education continues to grow, several major aspects of federal laws, rules, and regulations may need to be reexamined. Certain rules may need to be modified if a small, but growing, number of schools are to remain eligible for student aid. Students attending these schools may become ineligible for student aid because their distance education programs are growing and may exceed statutory and regulatory limits on the amount of distance education an institution can offer. In general, students at minority serving institutions use distance education less extensively than students at other schools. Accrediting agencies play an important role in reviewing distance education programs. They, and Education, are "gatekeepers" with respect to ensuring quality at postsecondary institutions--including those that offer distance education programs.

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