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The Daily Tar Heel

Financial Aid Structure Harms Distance Education Students

But the number of students taking these courses has been restricted by federal financial aid regulations.

A recent report released by the U.S. Department of Education states that certain provisions in the Higher Education Act of 1965 have inhibited the availability of distance learning to many students.

Ed Klonoski, director of the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, said there are two regulations in the education act that pose problems for distance-learning students.

Klonoski said the 50 percent rule, which denies federal aid to schools holding more than 50 percent of their courses off campus, provides the greatest hindrance to long-distance learning.

"The one most directly influencing us is the 50 percent rule," he said.

Klonoski said the 50 percent rule was instituted to combat fraud but that the distance-learning community has developed other ways to combat the problem.

He also said the 12-hour rule, which renders students enrolled in fewer than 12 credit hours a semester ineligible for federal aid, causes problems for students in need of financial aid.

"In the distance-learning program we don't have seat time," Klonoski said.

He added that students should qualify for aid based solely on academic progress.

Since forming the Distance Learning Demonstration Program in 1998, the Department of Education has been studying the way restrictions on financial aid programs have inhibited the growth of distance education.

But Jane Glickman, U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman, said concerns about distance education's aid availability are legitimate.

"How do we know that the student sitting at the computer is really the one that's supposed to be taking the test?" she said.

Mary Garren, UNC associate director for scholarships and student aid, said the novelty and variety of distance learning programs has created the difficulties.

"Distance learning is a relatively new phenomenon," she said. "It poses a problem in making regulations to fit all the possible configurations."

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