Distance Education:

More Data Could Improve Education's Ability to Track Technology at Minority Serving Institutions

GAO-03-900: Published: Sep 12, 2003. Publicly Released: Oct 6, 2003.

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Distance education--offering courses by Internet, video, or other forms outside the classroom--is a fast growing part of postsecondary education. GAO was asked to review the state of distance education at Minority Serving Institutions, which are schools that serve high percentages of minority students, including Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians. Under Titles III and V of the Higher Education Act, these schools are eligible for grants that can be used for expanding their technology, including distance education. GAO's review focused on (1) the use of distance education at Minority Serving Institutions, (2) key factors influencing these schools' decisions about whether or not to offer distance education, and (3) steps the Department of Education could take, if any, to improve monitoring efforts of technological progress under Titles III and V programs.

There are some variations in the use of distance education at Minority Serving Institutions compared to other schools. For example, while Minority Serving Institutions tend to offer at least one distance education course at the same rate as other schools, they differ in how many courses are offered and which students take the courses. Also, like other schools, larger Minority Serving Institutions tend to offer more distance education than smaller schools, and public schools tend to offer more distance education than private schools. However, Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal Colleges generally offer fewer courses than other schools, and a smaller percentage of minority students take such courses. Minority Serving Institutions consider two main factors in deciding whether to offer distance education. The first is distance education's compatibility with the school's preferred teaching method. Many schools that offered no distance education had a strong preference for a classroom-based approach. The second is resources--schools offering little or no distance education had limited technology and support personnel. Also, Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions viewed distance education as a lower priority compared to expanding technology usage in the classroom. By contrast, Tribal Colleges gave distance education higher priority, reflecting the greater geographic dispersion of their students. Education could strengthen its monitoring efforts of the Title III and V programs by expanding its existing system. Currently, the monitoring efforts for tracking the progress of technological improvements are more complete for Hispanic Serving Institutions than for the other Minority Serving Institutions. Education also lacks good baseline information on technology capacity at Minority Serving Institutions. Expanding current efforts to include such data would provide a basis for measuring the progress being made by Minority Serving Institutions.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should direct managers of the Title III and Title V programs to further improve their annual performance report for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal Colleges by including areas such as student access to computers and the number of distance education courses that were offered.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Institutional Development and Undergraduate Education Service has amended the Annual Performance Report for Title III and Title IV grantees to include 15 questions regarding student access to computers and distance education courses. The Office of Management and Budget approved the changes on May 25, 2007. The completed report will reflect the activity of the grantee to improve access to technology over the entire 5-year grant period. The Annual Performance Report will be open to grantees to complete on October 1, 2007.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should study the feasibility of adding questions on distance education and information technology to an existing study at Education, such as the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, to develop baseline data on technology capacity at Minority Serving Institutions and to judge the extent to which progress is being made.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of Postsecondary Education worked with the National Center for Education Statistics to determine whether additional data could be collected on the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). They determined that no additional data on IPEDS was warranted. Instead, the use of Education's Postsecondary Education Quick Information System to collect data on these issues is more appropriate.

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