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Financial Aid for Online College: Making Programs Accessible for All

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, January 28, 2013

Today, distance learning is a thriving academic business, producing well-educated graduates with consistency and speed. In fact, if you still believe that an online degree is a bunch of bunk, it's time to toss those thoughts right out the window.

The Internet Age has brought technology, academia, and legitimate education right into our living rooms. There are many accredited distance learning programs, and distance and online learning have become increasingly effective. Congress has given the industry a lot more clout via the federal student aid program, designed to provide students with financial aid for online college.

Federal Funding for Online College Financial Aid

In a nod to non-traditional students everywhere, Congress lifted what was known as the "50-percent rule" in February 2006. This rule had required schools to offer at least 50 percent of their classes in a classroom setting to be eligible for federal student aid. That made it very difficult for the distance learning sector to be able to provide good, federally funded financial aid for online college.

Originally put in place to deter what was considered rampant fraud in the industry, the 50-percent rule kept things in check by preventing so-called "diploma mills" from getting their hands in the federal cookie jar. Prior to this restriction, those diploma mills had effectively lured in students with the promise of federal aid to pay for their distance education and as a result, made a tidy profit without offering any real education to anyone. Since most of these agencies offered virtually no actual classes, when the rule went into effect, their access to federal funds went away as well.

This, of course, came at the cost of any more legitimate distance learning programs having less to federal financial aid for online college. The repeal of the law helps to free up some of that federally supported online college financial aid for those more reputable programs.

Traditional colleges fear aid will be spread too thin
Not everyone is thrilled with the change in the law. Traditional colleges, while increasingly offering their own Internet-based classes, still maintain that their status as "legitimate" schools entitles them to a bigger piece of the pie than schools devoted to distance learning programs. Most of them are non-profit institutions and count on attracting students by offering attractive student aid packages, which legitimate distance-learning programs simply can't generally match without federally supported financial aid for online college.

With for-profit schools edging in on a limited pot of money, some fear that attracting students and keeping the bills paid will become that much harder in an age where tuition keeps going up and the amount of money available for aid gets spread more thinly.

Distance learning opportunities supported by increased financial aid for online college

Diverse opportunities for education are what Congress and its constituents want, however. Enrollment in online learning has sky-rocketed in recent years. Graduates from non-traditional programs get jobs, pay taxes, and become part of a thriving economy — and that's an outcome that Congress wants to help support. There are now roughly 2,500 non-traditional, for-profit schools that the federal government has accredited to receive federal student financial aid for online college, the largest of which is the University of Phoenix, with 300,000 students enrolled nationwide.

This is good news for all you rural, military, and working students — you can get an online degree and you'll have all the support you need to make it happen, thanks to the newfound preponderance of online college financial aid!

More Information on Distance Learning
For more information on distance learning in general, you might try reading about distance learning colleges and how they function. On Peterson's, there is also specific information about how certain distance learning programs operate, such as how a distance learning engineering program might operate. Information on graduate level distance learning programs, including distance learning master degree programs and distance learning PhD programs, is also available.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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