Want to know something cool?

One point of view, taking note of sundry "cool" things that affect-- or could affect-- the education business.


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Congress Clears Way for Tuition Assistance at Online Institutions

Here's something cool: Studying at an online institution of higher education can now be eligible for federal tuition assistance money. A new ruling by Congress eliminates the so-called 50% rule, which since 1992 required institutions to offer at least 50% of their classes in brick-and-mortar classrooms in order to qualify for federal tuition assistance dollars.

According to an article in the New York Times (here), the decision is a contentious one that seems to fall along a battlefront between traditional not-for-profit institutions and their private-sector counterparts in the higher education industry. Much of the article centers on the concerted lobbying efforts of for-profit institutions, implying that the decision went their way in part because of well-placed, well-funded lobbyists and friendly administration officials, whereas the traditional ivy-covered institutions lacked the political clout to fight the move.

(Click the link to read the rest of the post ... )

Debate also rages on the efficacy of online study, with traditional schools claiming "phantom statistics" and unproven results. Meanwhile, institutions such as the University of Phoenix, one of the largest and most well-known advocates of online study, claim that virtual classrooms offer access for working students, military personnel, or others for whom physical location poses a barrier to higher learning.

Critics point to the dissolution of one online university, the Masters Institute in California, as one example of unaccountable and suspect practices. But with more than 7% of students pursuing degrees online, a number which could almost quadruple over the next ten years, the elimination of the 50% rule means that student aid is more available. That means more students will have access to higher education than ever before. That, rather than a debate about whether commercial schools provide quality education, is very cool.

Let the debate rage over whether profit-driven education delivers comparable results to the consumer. Let fly the complaints about congressional lobbyists and political machinations. Let there be a public and thorough discourse about efficacy and education, which in the end will only mean a greater focus on the quality of learning. But meanwhile, let people go to school ... whether cutting across the quadrangle or connecting to the internets. More students with more financial aid at more institutions, whether non-profit or commercial, will mean competition in a marketplace that will drive innovation, quality, and measurable success. In spite of the debate, or perhaps because of it ... that's very cool.


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