This is the second report to Congress concerning the results of the Distance Education Demonstration Program. The demonstration program was authorized by Congress in the 1998 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA) to: test the quality and viability of expanded distance education programs currently restricted under the HEA; provide for increased student access to higher education through distance education; and help determine the most effective means of delivering quality education via distance education, the specific statutory and regulatory requirements that should be altered to provide greater access to distance education, and the appropriate level of HEA Title IV student financial assistance for students enrolled in distance education programs.
The Department initiated the demonstration program on July 1, 1999 with 15 participants (one of which was removed from the program in the first year) and added nine additional participants in July 2002, as authorized by the statute. Current participants include 17 individual institutions, four systems, and two consortia, for a total of 107 institutions. Participants were selected through a competitive process using statutory criteria that included, among other things, the number and quality of applications received and diversity with respect to institutional size, mission, and geographic distribution. The distance education delivery methods used by participants include correspondence study, two-way interactive videoconferencing, videotapes, and the Internet. The use of online instruction is increasing at a rapid rate at all participating institutions to deliver certificate and full-degree programs as well as individual courses that are available both to students studying at a distance and on-campus. Almost all participants offer distance education degree programs in business and computer/information science. Other popular disciplines include liberal arts or general studies, health professions and social sciences at the bachelor’s degree level and education, engineering and psychology at the graduate level.
Sixteen participants received waivers of the three provisions that relate to the amount of correspondence education an institution eligible for the Title IV student financial assistance programs may provide (the “50% rules”). Seven are currently using these waivers to continue to participate in the Federal student aid programs. Fourteen participants received waivers for provisions relating to the required length of a program and definition of a week of instruction (the “12-hour rule”). Seven received waivers of the definition of a full-time student as it relates to correspondence study, and three received waivers of the requirements relating to satisfactory academic progress. Western Governors University received additional waivers, as provided in the authorizing statute, because of its unique structure.
Both the number of distance education programs provided by participants and enrollments in these programs increased during 2000-01. The number of students enrolled in distance education programs offered by the initial cohort of participants has more than doubled since the 1998-99 academic year, from just under 13,000 to over 27,000. There has been considerable growth as well in the number of onsite students who are taking distance education courses. This total increased from 19,000 to over 42,000 in the same three-year period. Participants report significant progress in meeting individual goals related to increasing access to their programs and services by underserved populations.
Comparative data on persistence and completion for cohorts of students who are enrolled in distance education and onsite programs, and those taking a mix of distance education and onsite courses, indicate that the greatest success is experienced by the latter group at all degree levels. These early findings for distance education and onsite programs differ depending upon degree level. At the graduate degree level, there is a tendency for retention to be higher for distance education than onsite programs, while at the lower degree levels this tendency is reversed. However, the gap between the two narrows with time. The gap appears to be a function of the high percentage of part-time students who are enrolled in distance education programs. The mode of distance education delivery does not appear to be a salient factor in student outcomes for demonstration program participants.