DISTANCE EDUCATION: Improved Data on Program Costs and Guidelines on Quality Assessments Needed to Inform Federal Policy

February 27, 2004

What GAO Found
While federal restrictions on the size of distance education programs affect only a small number of schools’ ability to offer federal student aid, the growing popularity of distance education could cause the number to increase in the future. GAO found that 14 schools were either now adversely affected by the restrictions or would be affected in the future; collectively, these schools serve nearly 225,000 students. Eight of these schools, however, will remain eligible to offer federal student aid because they have been granted waivers from the restrictions by Education. Education granted the waivers as part of a program aimed at assessing the continued appropriateness of the restrictions given the changing face of distance education. In considering the appropriateness of the restrictions, there are several policy options for amending the restrictions; however, amending the restrictions to improve access would likely increase the cost of the federal student aid programs. One way to further understand the effect of amending the restrictions would be to study data on the cost of granting the waivers to schools, but Education has yet to develop this information.

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