Higher Education: Use of New Data Could Help Improve Oversight of Distance Education

November 22, 2011

As the largest provider of financial aid in higher education, with about $134 billion in Title IV funds provided to students in fiscal year 2010, the Department of Education (Education) has a considerable interest in distance education. Distance education–that is, offering courses by the Internet, video, or other forms outside the classroom–has been a growing force in postsecondary education and there are questions about quality and adequate oversight. GAO was asked to determine (1) the characteristics of distance education today, (2) the characteristics of students participating in distance education, (3) how the quality of distance education is being assessed, and (4) how Education monitors distance education in its stewardship of federal student aid funds. GAO reviewed federal laws and regulations, analyzed Education data and documents, and interviewed Education officials and industry experts. GAO also interviewed officials from accrediting and state agencies, as well as 20 schools–which were selected based on a variety of factors to represent diverse perspectives.

SOURCE: Government Accounting Office

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