oversight

Distance Education: Challenges for Minority Serving Institutions and Implications for Federal Education Policy

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-10-06.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                             United States General Accounting Office

GAO                          Testimony
                             Before the Subcommittee on Select
                             Education, Committee on Education and
                             the Workforce, House of Representatives

For Release on Delivery
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EST
Monday, October 6, 2003      DISTANCE EDUCATION
                             Challenges for Minority
                             Serving Institutions and
                             Implications for Federal
                             Education Policy
                             Statement of Cornelia M. Ashby 

                             Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security 





GAO-04-78T 

                                                  October 6, 2003


                                                  DISTANCE EDUCATION

                                                  Challenges for Minority Serving
  Highlights of GAO-04-78T, a testimony           Institutions and Implications for Federal
  before the Subcommittee on Select
  Education, Committee on Education and           Education Policy
  the Workforce, House of Representatives




The Higher Education Act of 1965                  There are some variations in the use of distance education at Minority
gives special recognition to some                 Serving Institutions when compared to other schools. While it is difficult to
postsecondary schools—called                      generalize, Minority Serving Institutions offered at least one distance
Minority Serving Institutions—that                education course at the same rate as other schools. When Minority Serving
serve a high percentage of minority               Institutions offered distance education, they did so to improve access for
students. These and other schools                 students who live away from campus and provide convenience to older,
face stiff challenges in keeping pace             working, or married students. Some Minority Serving Institutions do not
with technology. One rapidly growing              offer distance education because classroom education best meets the needs
area, distance education, has                     of their students. Additionally, schools view the overall use of technology as
commanded particular attention and                a critical tool in educating their students and they generally indicated that
an estimated 1.5 million students                 offering more distance education was a lower priority than using technology
have enrolled in at least one distance            to educate their classroom students. The two primary challenges in meeting
education course.                                 technology goals cited by these institutions were limitations in funding and
                                                  inadequate staffing to maintain and operate information technology.
In light of this, GAO was asked to
provide information on: (1) the use of            Selected Characteristics of Minority Serving Institutions
distance education by Minority
Serving Institutions; (2) the                                                                                          Type of Institution
challenges Minority Serving                                                                           Historically Black
Institutions face in obtaining and                                                                        Colleges and Hispanic Serving           Tribal
                                                   Characteristics                                         Universities         Institutions    Colleges
using technology; (3) GAO’s                                               a
                                                   Number of schools                                                102                 334          29
preliminary finding on the role that
                                                   Percent of each type of institution
accrediting agencies play in ensuring
                                                    Public                                                           50                   45        100
the quality of distance education; and
                                                    Private nonprofit                                                50                   23          0
(4) GAO’s preliminary findings on
                                                    Private for-profit                                                 0                  32          0
whether statutory requirements limit
                                                   Average number of students per
federal aid to students involved in                institution                                                    2,685               5,141         467
distance education.                                Number of students served in 2000-01                         274,000           1.7 million     13,500
                                                  Source: Department of Education and GAO analysis.
GAO is currently finalizing the results
of its work on (1) the role of                    Accrediting agencies have taken steps to ensure the quality of distance
accrediting agencies in reviewing                 education programs, such as developing supplemental guidelines for
distance education programs and (2)               reviewing these programs. However, GAO found (1) no agreed upon set of
federal student financial aid issues              standards for holding institutions accountable for student outcomes and (2)
related to distance education.                    differences in how agencies review distance education programs. Finally,
                                                  several statutory rules limit the amount of federal aid for distance education
                                                  students. GAO estimates that at least 14 schools are not eligible or could lose
                                                  their eligibility for federal student financial aid if their distance education
                                                  programs continue to expand. While the number of schools potentially
                                                  affected is relatively small in comparison to the more than 6,000
                                                  postsecondary institutions in the country, this is an important issue for the
                                                  nearly 210,000 students who attend these schools. Several factors must be
  www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-04-78T.          considered before deciding whether to eliminate or modify these rules. They
  To view the full product, including the scope   include the cost of implementation, the extent to which the changes improve
  and methodology, click on the link above.       access, and the impact that changes would have on Education’s ability to
  For more information, contact Cornelia M.
  Ashby at (202) 512-8403, ashbyc@gao.gov.
                                                  prevent schools from fraudulent or abusive practices.
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee:

I am pleased to be here today to discuss issues related to distance
education1 and its implications for federal programs that support
postsecondary schools serving a high percentage of minority students and
for the federal student financial aid programs that exceeded $60 billion in
2003. For over 100 years, the Congress has recognized that some
postsecondary institutions—including the University of Texas Pan-
American—have unique roles to play in educating minority students.
These schools serve a high proportion of minority students and have
special designation under federal law as Minority Serving Institutions.2
Like other postsecondary institutions, over the last decade, Minority
Serving Institutions have faced the challenge of trying to keep pace with
the changing face of technology in education. One rapidly growing area—
distance education—has commanded particular attention on campuses
around the world. In the 1999-2000 school year, an estimated 1.5 million
postsecondary students, or about 1 in 13 students, enrolled in at least one
distance education course, and the Department of Education (Education)
estimates that the number of students involved in distance education has
tripled in just 4 years. The Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, will
be reauthorized within the coming year. Among other purposes, the act
provides federal support for Minority Serving Institutions through Titles III
and V, including support for technological improvements at these schools.
Title IV of the act authorizes the federal government to provide grants,
loans, and work-study wages for millions of postsecondary students each
year; however, there are limits on some financial aid to distance education
students.

Given the changes in how education is being offered, you asked us to
testify on the following issues: (1) the use of distance education by
Minority Serving Institutions compared to non-Minority Serving
Institutions; (2) the challenges Minority Serving Institutions face in
obtaining and using technology and how Education monitors
technological progress at these schools; (3) our preliminary findings on



1
 The Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, defines distance education as an
educational process in which the student is separated in time or place from the instructor
(20 U.S.C. 1093(h)).
2
 The three main types of Minority Serving Institutions are Historically Black Colleges and
Universities, Tribal Colleges, and Hispanic Serving Institutions. Other types of Minority
Serving Institutions include Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian serving institutions.



Page 1                                                                         GAO-04-78T
     the role that accrediting agencies play in ensuring the quality of distance
     education programs; and (4) our preliminary findings on whether statutory
     requirements limit federal student aid for students involved in distance
     education. In addition to this statement, we are releasing a report today on
     distance education at Minority Serving Institutions.3 This report discusses
     many of these issues in more detail. We will issue a second report in
     December 2003 on accrediting agencies and statutory and regulatory
     issues related to distance education.

     Our statement is based on responses to distinct surveys developed and
     sent to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving
     Institutions, and Tribal Colleges; data on distance education produced by
     Education;4 analysis of Education databases;5 visits to seven accrediting
     agencies responsible for reviewing two-thirds of all distance education
     programs; and interviews with Education officials, accreditors, and
     officials of schools with substantial distance education programs. We
     performed our work between October 2002 and September 2003 in
     accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

     In summary:

•	   There are some variations in the use of distance education at Minority
     Serving Institutions and other schools. While it is difficult to generalize
     across Minority Serving Institutions, Minority Serving Institutions tend to
     offer at least one distance education course at the same rate as other
     schools, but they differ in how many courses are offered and which
     students take the courses. Like other schools, larger Minority Serving
     Institutions tend to offer more distance education than smaller schools
     and public schools tend to offer more distance education than private
     schools. However, Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal
     Colleges generally offered fewer classes, and a smaller percentage of
     minority students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities take such
     courses. When Minority Serving Institutions offered distance education,
     they did so to (1) improve access to courses for some students who live


     3
      U.S. General Accounting Office, Distance Education: More Data Could Improve
     Education’s Ability to Track Technology at Minority Serving Institutions, GAO-03-900
     (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 12, 2003).
     4
     U.S. Department of Education, Distance Education at Degree-Granting Postsecondary
     Education Institutions: 2000-2001 (Washington, D.C.: July 2003).
     5
      We analyzed Education’s National Postsecondary Student Aid Study and the Integrated
     Postsecondary Educational Data System (IPEDS).



     Page 2                                                                     GAO-04-78T
     away from campus and (2) provide convenience to older, working, or
     married students. By design, some Minority Serving Institutions indicated
     that they do not offer distance education because they prefer classroom
     education to best meet the needs of their students.

•	   Minority Serving Institutions, like other schools, face stiff challenges in
     keeping pace with the rapid changes and opportunities presented by
     information technology. Minority Serving Institutions view the use of
     technology as a critical tool in educating their students and they generally
     indicated that offering more distance education was a lower priority than
     using technology to educate their classroom students. For example, all
     three types of institutions reported that their highest priority was
     providing more training for faculty in the use of information technology as
     a teaching method. Other priorities included improving network
     infrastructure, increasing the use of technology in classrooms, and
     guaranteeing that all students have access to a computer. More than four
     out of five Minority Serving Institutions indicated that they expect to have
     difficulties in meeting their goals related to technology. The two primary
     challenges cited by Minority Serving Institutions were (1) limitations in
     funding and (2) inadequate staffing to maintain and operate information
     technology. With respect to how Education monitors technological
     improvements at Minority Serving Institutions, we found that Education
     could develop better data to improve their ability to track technological
     improvements at Minority Serving Institutions. Specifically, we found that
     progress could be made by collecting more complete data on technology
     improvements across the three major types of Minority Serving
     Institutions and by developing baseline data to measure progress on the
     technological capacity at Minority Serving Institutions.

•	   Based on our ongoing work, we have preliminary findings on the role that
     accrediting agencies play in ensuring the quality of distance education
     programs and information on certain statutory requirements that limit
     federal financial aid to distance education students. Uncertainty about the
     quality of distance education programs has turned attention toward what
     accrediting agencies do to ensure the quality of distance education
     programs. Our preliminary analysis shows that while accrediting agencies
     have taken steps to ensure the quality of distance education programs,
     such as developing supplemental guidelines for reviewing distance
     education programs, there are two areas that potentially could merit
     further attention. First, there is no agreed upon set of standards that
     accrediting agencies use in holding postsecondary institutions accountable
     for student outcomes. Second, there are differences in their procedures
     for reviewing distance education programs—for example, some agencies



     Page 3                                                           GAO-04-78T
                    require institutions to demonstrate comparability between distance
                    education programs and campus-based programs, while others do not.

               •	   Finally, also based on our preliminary work, we found that several
                    statutory rules—designed to prevent fraud and abuse in distance
                    education—limit federal aid for distance education students. We estimate
                    that at least 14 schools are not eligible or could lose their eligibility for
                    participation in the federal student financial aid programs if their distance
                    education programs continue to expand. While the number of schools
                    potentially affected is relatively small in comparison to the more than
                    6,000 postsecondary institutions in the country, this is an important issue
                    for the nearly 210,000 students who attend these schools. Deciding
                    whether to eliminate or modify these rules involves consideration of
                    several other factors, including the cost of implementation, the extent to
                    which the changes improve access to postsecondary schools, and the
                    impact that changes would have on Education’s ability to prevent
                    institutions from fraudulent or abusive practices.

                    We are currently finalizing the results of our work on (1) the role of
                    accrediting agencies in reviewing distance education programs and (2)
                    federal student financial aid issues related to distance education. A report
                    on these issues will be available in December 2003.


                    Minority Serving Institutions vary in size and scope but generally serve a
Background 	        high percentage of minority students, many of whom are financially
                    disadvantaged. In the 2000-01 school year, 465 schools, or about 7 percent
                    of postsecondary institutions in the United States,6 served about 35
                    percent of all Black, American Indian, and Hispanic students. Table 1
                    briefly compares the three main types of Minority Serving Institutions in
                    terms of their number, type, and size.




                    6
                     These include institutions in U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico, that are authorized to
                    distribute federal student financial aid.



                    Page 4                                                                           GAO-04-78T
Table 1: Selected Characteristics of Minority Serving Institutions

                                                                               Type of Institution
                                                           Historically Black               Hispanic
                                                               Colleges and                  Serving          Tribal
    Characteristics                                             Universities             Institutions       Colleges
    Number of schoolsa                                                          102              334             29
    Percent of each type of institution
    Public                                                                        50               45           100
    Private nonprofit                                                             50               23             0
    Private for-profit                                                              0              32             0
    Average number of students per                                            2,685            5,141            467
    institution
    Number of students served in 2000-01                                  274,000          1.7 million        13,500
Source: Department of Education and GAO analysis of IPEDS for the 2000-01 school year.
a
This figure represents the number of schools eligible for the federal student aid programs in the
2000-01 school year based on our analysis of IPEDS.


The Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, provides specific federal
support for Minority Serving Institutions through Titles III and V. These
provisions authorize grants for augmenting the limited resources that
many Minority Serving Institutions have for funding their academic
programs. In 2002, grants funded under these two titles provided over $300
million for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving
Institutions, and Tribal Colleges to improve their academic quality,
institutional management, and fiscal stability. Technology is one of the
many purposes to which these grants can be applied, both inside the
classroom and, in the form of distance education, outside the classroom.

Technology is changing how institutions educate their students, and
Minority Serving Institutions, like other schools, are grappling with how
best to adapt. Through such methods as E-mail, chat rooms, and direct
instructional delivery via the Internet, technology can enhance students’
ability to learn any time, any place, rather than be bound by time or place
in the classroom or in the library. For Minority Serving Institutions, the
importance of technology takes on an additional dimension in that
available research indicates their students may arrive with less prior
access to technology, such as computers and the Internet, than their




Page 5                                                                                                   GAO-04-78T
counterparts in other schools.7 These students may need considerable
exposure to technology to be fully equipped with job-related skills.

The growth of distance education has added a new dimension to
evaluating the quality of postsecondary education programs. Federal
statutes recognize accrediting agencies8 as the gatekeepers of
postsecondary education quality. To be eligible for the federal student aid
program, a school must be periodically reviewed and accredited by such
an agency. Education, in turn, is responsible for recognizing an accrediting
agency as a reliable authority on quality. While the accreditation process
applies to both distance education and campus-based instruction, many
accreditation practices focus on the traditional means of providing
campus-based education, such as the adequacy of classroom facilities or
recruiting and admission practices. These measures can be more difficult
to apply to distance education when students are not on campus or may
not interact with faculty in person. In this new environment,
postsecondary education officials are increasingly recommending that
outcomes—such as course completion rates or success in written
communication—be incorporated as appropriate into assessments of
distance education.

The emphasis on student outcomes has occurred against a backdrop of the
federal government, state governments, and the business community
asking for additional information on what students are learning for the
tens of billions of taxpayer dollars that support postsecondary institutions
each year. While there is general recognition that the United States has
one of the best postsecondary systems in the world, this call for greater
accountability has occurred because of low completion rates among low-
income students (only 6 percent earn a bachelors degree or higher),
perceptions that the overall 6-year institutional graduation rate (about 52
percent) at 4-year schools and the completion rate at 2-year schools (about
33 percent) are low, and a skills gap in problem solving, communications,
and analytical thinking between what students are taught and what
employers need in the 21st Century workplace.



7
 The Web-Based Education Commission, The Power of the Internet for Learning: Moving
from Promise to Practice (Washington D.C.: December 2000).
8
 Education defines an accrediting agency as a legal entity, or that part of a legal entity, that
conducts accrediting activities through voluntary, nonfederal peer review and makes
decisions concerning the accreditation or preaccreditation status of institutions, programs,
or both.



Page 6                                                                            GAO-04-78T
For the most part, students taking distance education courses can qualify
for financial aid in the same way as students taking traditional courses.9 As
the largest provider of student financial aid to postsecondary students, the
federal government has a substantial interest in distance education. Under
Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, the federal
government provides grants, loans, and work-study wages for millions of
students each year. There are limits, however, on the use of federal
student aid at schools with large distance education offerings. Concerns
about the quality of some correspondence courses more than a decade ago
led the Congress, as a way of controlling fraud and abuse in federal
student aid programs, to impose restrictions on the extent to which
schools could offer distance education and still qualify to participate in
federal student aid programs. The rapid growth of distance education and
emerging delivery modes, such as Internet-based classes, have led to
questions about whether these restrictions are still needed and how the
restrictions might affect students’ access to federal aid programs. Distance
education’s effect on helping students complete their courses of study is
still largely unknown. Although there is some anecdotal evidence that
distance education can help students complete their programs or graduate
from college, school officials that we spoke to did not identify any studies
that evaluated the extent to which distance education has improved
completion or graduation rates.




9
 Students who took their entire program through distance education courses received an
estimated $763 million in federal student aid in the1999-2000 school year. Students who
took at least one distance education course may have also received federal student aid;
however, the data sources used by National Postsecondary Student Aid Study do not
distinguish aid awarded for distance education courses and traditional classroom courses.



Page 7                                                                       GAO-04-78T
                         There are some variations in the use of distance education at Minority
Distance Education       Serving Institutions and other schools. While it is difficult to generalize
Use Varies between       across the Minority Serving Institutions, the available data indicate that
                         Minority Serving Institutions tend to offer at least one distance education
Minority Serving         course at the same rate as other schools, but they differ in how many
Institutions and Other   courses are offered and which students take the courses. Overall, the
                         percentage of schools offering at least one distance education course in
Schools, with Some       the 2002-03 school year was 56 percent for Historically Black Colleges and
Minority Serving         Universities, 63 percent for Hispanic Serving Institutions, and 63 percent
Institutions Choosing    for Tribal Colleges, based on data from our surveys of Minority Serving
                         Institutions. Similarly, 56 percent of 2- and 4-year schools across the
Not to Offer Any         country offered at least one distance education course in the 2000-01
Distance Education       school year, according to a separate survey conducted by Education.10
                         Minority Serving Institutions also tended to mirror other schools in that
                         larger schools were more likely to offer distance education than smaller
                         schools, and public schools were more likely to offer distance education
                         than private schools. Tribal Colleges were an exception; all of them were
                         small, but the percentage of schools offering distance education courses
                         was relatively high compared to other smaller schools. The greater use of
                         distance education among Tribal Colleges may reflect their need to serve
                         students who often live in remote areas.

                         In two respects, however, the use of distance education at Minority
                         Serving Institutions differed from other schools. First, of those institutions
                         offering at least one distance education course, Historically Black Colleges
                         and Universities and Tribal Colleges generally offered fewer distance
                         education courses—a characteristic that may reflect the smaller size of
                         these two types of institutions compared to other schools.11 Second, to the
                         extent that data are available, minority students at Historically Black
                         Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions participate in
                         distance education to a somewhat lower degree than other students. For
                         example, in the 1999-2000 school year, fewer undergraduates at
                         Historically Black Colleges and Universities took distance education
                         courses than students at non-Minority Serving Institutions—6 percent v.


                         10
                          The data from our survey and survey conducted by Education are not completely
                         comparable because they cover two different time periods. Education’s survey covered the
                         2000-01 school year while our survey covered the 2002-03 school year.
                         11
                           Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal Colleges are generally smaller in
                         size than postsecondary institutions overall. The average Hispanic Serving Institution,
                         however, was more than two times larger than the average postsecondary institution in
                         2000.



                         Page 8                                                                          GAO-04-78T
     8.4 percent of undergraduates—a condition that may reflect the fact that
     these schools offer fewer distance education courses. Also, at Hispanic
     Serving Institutions, Hispanic students had lower rates of participation in
     distance education than non-Hispanic students attending these schools.
     These differences were statistically significant.

     We found that Minority Serving Institutions offered distance education
     courses12 for two main reasons: (1) they improve access to courses for
     some students who live away from campus and (2) they provide
     convenience to older, working, or married students. The following
     examples illustrate these conditions.

•	   Northwest Indian College, a Tribal College in Bellingham, Washington, has
     over 10 percent of its 600 students involved in distance education. It offers
     distance education by videoconference equipment or correspondence. The
     College offers over 20 distance education courses, such as mathematics
     and English to students at seven remote locations in Washington and
     Idaho. According to College officials, distance education technology is
     essential because it provides access to educational opportunities for
     students who live away from campus. For example, some students taking
     distance education courses live hundreds of miles from the College in
     locations such as the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho and the Makah
     Reservation in Neah Bay, Washington. According to school officials,
     students involved in distance education tend to be older with dependents,
     and therefore, find it difficult to take courses outside of their community.
     Also, one official noted that staying within the tribal community is valued
     and distance education allows members of tribes to stay close to their
     community and still obtain skills or a degree.

•	   The University of the Incarnate Word is a private nonprofit Hispanic
     Serving Institution with an enrollment of about 6,900 students. The school,
     located in San Antonio, Texas, offers on-line degree and certificate
     programs, including degrees in business, nursing, and information
     technology. About 2,400 students are enrolled in the school’s distance
     education program. The school’s on-line programs are directed at
     nontraditional students (students who are 24 years old or older), many of
     whom are Hispanic. In general, the ideal candidates for the on-line
     program are older students, working adults, or adult learners who have



     12
       The two most common modes of delivering distance education for Minority Serving
     Institutions were (1) on-line courses using a computer and (2) live courses transmitted via
     videoconference.



     Page 9                                                                         GAO-04-78T
     been out of high school for 5 or more years, according to the Provost and
     the Director of Instructional Technology.

     Not all schools wanted to offer distance education, however, and we found
     that almost half of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and
     Hispanic Serving Institutions13 did not offer any distance education
     because they preferred to teach their students in the classroom rather than
     through distance education.14 Here are examples from 2 schools that prefer
     teaching their students in the classroom rather than by the use of distance
     education.

•	   Howard University, an Historically Black University in Washington, D.C.,
     with about 10,000 students, has substantial information technology;
     however, it prefers to use the technology in teaching undergraduates on
     campus rather than through developing and offering distance education.
     The University has state-of-the-art hardware and software, such as
     wireless access to the school’s network; a digital auditorium; and a 24-
     hour-a-day Technology Center, which support and enhance the academic
     achievement for its students. Despite its technological capabilities, the
     University does not offer distance education courses to undergraduates
     and has no plans to do so. According to the Dean of Scholarships and
     Financial Aid, the University prefers teaching undergraduates in the
     classroom because more self-discipline is needed when taking distance
     education courses. Also, many undergraduates benefit from the support
     provided by students and faculty in a classroom setting.

•	   Robert Morris College is a private nonprofit Hispanic Serving Institution
     located in Chicago, Illinois, that offers bachelor degrees in business,
     computer technology, and health sciences. About 25 percent of its 6,200
     undergraduates are Hispanic. Although the College has one computer for
     every 4 students, it does not offer distance education courses and has no
     plans to do so. School officials believe that classroom education best
     meets the needs of its students because of the personal interaction that
     occurs in a classroom setting.




     13
      Forty-four percent of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, 37 percent of Hispanic
     Serving Institutions, and 39 percent of Tribal Colleges did not offer any distance education.
     14
       Conversely, only 10 percent of Tribal Colleges that are not involved in distance education
     indicated that classroom education best meets the needs of their students.



     Page 10                                                                         GAO-04-78T
                         Among Minority Serving Institutions that do not offer distance education,
                         over 50 percent would like to offer distance education in the future, but
                         indicated that they have limited resources with which to do so. About half
                         of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving
                         Institutions that do not offer distance education indicated that they do not
                         have the necessary technology—including students with access to
                         computers at their residences—for distance education. A higher
                         percentage of Tribal Colleges (67 percent) cited limitations in technology
                         as a reason why they do not offer distance education. Technological
                         limitations are twofold for Tribal Colleges. The first, and more obvious
                         limitation is a lack of resources to purchase and develop needed
                         technologies. The second is that due to the remote location of some
                         campuses, needed technological infrastructure is not there—that is,
                         schools may be limited to the technology of the surrounding communities.
                         All 10 Tribal Colleges that did not offer distance education indicated that
                         improvements in technology, such as videoconference equipment and
                         network infrastructure with greater speed, would be helpful.


                         Minority Serving Institutions, like other schools, face stiff challenges in
Minority Serving         keeping pace with the rapid changes and opportunities presented by
Institutions Face        information technology and Education could improve how technological
                         progress is monitored. Minority Serving Institutions view the use of
Sizable Challenges in    technology as a critical tool in educating their students. With respect to
Using Technology,        their overall technology goals, Minority Serving Institutions viewed using
                         technology in the classroom as a higher priority than offering distance
Including Distance       education. (See fig. 1.) Other priorities included improving network
Education, and           infrastructure and providing more training for faculty in the use of
Education’s Efforts to   information technology as a teaching method.

Monitor Technology
Could Be Improved




                         Page 11                                                          GAO-04-78T
Figure 1: Distance Education Generally Ranks Lower in Relation to Other Technology Goals




                                        Minority Serving Institutions indicated that they expect to have difficulties
                                        in meeting their goals related to technology. Eighty-seven percent of Tribal
                                        Colleges, 83 percent of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and 82
                                        percent of Hispanic Serving Institutions cited limitations in funding as a
                                        primary reason for why they may not achieve their technology-related
                                        goals. For example, the Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute in
                                        Albuquerque, New Mexico, serves about 670 students and it uses distance
                                        education to provide courses for an associates degree in early childhood
                                        development to about 100 students. The school uses two-way satellite


                                        Page 12                                                          GAO-04-78T
communication and transmits the courses to 11 remote locations.
According to a technology specialist at the school, this form of distance
education is expensive compared to other methods. As an alternative, the
Institute would like to establish two-way teleconferencing capability and
Internet access at the off-site locations as a means of expanding
educational opportunities. However, officials told us that they have no
means to fund this alternative.

About half of the schools also noted that they might experience difficulty
in meeting their goals because they did not have enough staff to operate
and maintain information technology and to help faculty apply technology.
For example, officials at Diné College, a Tribal College on the Navajo
Reservation, told us they have not been able to fill a systems analyst
position for the last 3 years. School officials cited their remote location
and the fact that they are offering relatively low pay as problems in
attracting employees that have skills in operating and maintaining
technology equipment.

Having a systematic approach to expanding technology on campuses is an
important step toward improving technology at postsecondary schools.
About 75 percent of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, 70
percent of Hispanic Serving Institutions, and 48 percent of Tribal Colleges
had completed a strategic plan for expanding their technology
infrastructure. Fewer schools had completed a financial plan for funding
technology improvements. About half of Historically Black Colleges and
Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions, and 19 percent of Tribal
Colleges have a financial plan for expanding their information technology.

Studies by other organizations describe challenges faced by Minority
Serving Institutions in expanding their technology infrastructure. For
example, an October 2000 study by Booz, Allen, and Hamilton determined
that historically or predominantly Black colleges identified challenges in
funding, strategic planning, and keeping equipment up to date. An October
2000 report by the Department of Commerce found that most Historically
Black Colleges and Universities have access to computing resources, such
as high-speed Internet capabilities, but individual student access to
campus networks is seriously deficient due to, among other things, lack of
student ownership of computers or lack of access from campus
dormitories. An April 2003 Senate Report noted that only one Tribal
College has funding for high-speed Internet.

Education has made progress in monitoring the technological progress of
Minority Serving Institutions; however, its efforts could be improved in

Page 13                                                         GAO-04-78T
                       two ways. First, more complete data on how Historically Black Colleges
                       and Universities and Tribal Colleges use Title III funds for improving
                       technology on campus, and thus, the education of students, would help
                       inform program managers and policymakers about progress that has been
                       made and opportunities for improvement. Education’s tracking system
                       appears to include sufficient information on technology at Hispanic
                       Serving Institutions. Second, although Education has set a goal of
                       improving technology capacity at Minority Serving Institutions, it has not
                       yet developed a baseline against which progress can be measured. If
                       Education is to be successful in measuring progress in this area, it may
                       need to take a more proactive role in modifying existing research efforts to
                       include information on the extent to which technology is available at
                       schools.

                       Committee hearings such as this, reinforce the importance of effective
                       monitoring and good data collection efforts. As the Congress considers the
                       status of programs that aid Minority Serving Institutions, or examines
                       creating new programs15 for improving technology capacity at these
                       institutions, it will be important that agencies adequately track how
                       students benefit from expenditures of substantial federal funds. Without
                       improved data collection efforts, programs are at risk of granting funds
                       that may not benefit students.


                       Accrediting agencies have made progress in ensuring the quality of
Accrediting Agencies   distance education programs. For example, they have developed
Have Made Progress     supplemental guidelines for evaluating distance education programs and
                       they have placed additional emphasis on evaluating student outcomes.
in Ensuring the        Additionally, the Council on Higher Education Accreditation—an
Quality of Distance    organization that represents accrediting agencies—has issued guidance
                       and several issue papers on evaluating the quality of distance education
Education Programs;    programs. Furthermore, some accrediting agencies have called attention
However, Two Areas     to the need for greater consistency in their procedures because distance
May Merit Attention    education allows students to enroll in programs from anywhere in the
                       country. While progress has been made, our preliminary work has
                       identified two areas that may potentially merit attention.


                       15
                         In April 2003, the Senate passed S. 196, Minority Serving Institution Digital and Wireless
                       Technology Opportunity Act of 2003 to strengthen technology infrastructure at Minority
                       Serving Institutions. If enacted, this statute would create a new grant program at the
                       National Science Foundation for funding technology improvements at institutions that
                       serve a high percentage of minority students.



                       Page 14                                                                          GAO-04-78T
•	   While accrediting agencies have made progress in reviewing the quality of
     distance education programs, there is no agreed upon set of standards for
     holding schools accountable for student outcomes. In terms of progress
     made, for example, the Council on Higher Education Accreditation has
     issued guidance on reviewing distance education programs. In addition,
     some agencies have endorsed supplemental guidelines for distance
     education and four of the seven agencies have revised their standards to
     place greater emphasis on student learning outcomes. Not withstanding
     the progress that has been made, we found that agencies have no agreed
     upon set of standards for holding institutions accountable for student
     outcomes. Our preliminary work shows that one strategy for ensuring
     accountability is to make information on student achievement and
     attainment available to the public, according to Education. The Council on
     Higher Education Accreditation and some accrediting agencies are
     considering ways to do this, such as making program and institutional data
     available to the public; however, few if any of the agencies we reviewed
     currently have standards that require institutions to disclose such
     information to the public.

•	   The second issue involves variations in agency procedures for reviewing
     the quality of distance education. For example, agency procedures for
     reviewing distance education differ from one another in the degree to
     which agencies require institutions to have measures that allow them to
     compare their distance learning courses with their campus-based courses.
     Five agencies require institutions to demonstrate comparability between
     distance education programs and campus-based programs. For example,
     one agency requires that “the institution evaluate the educational
     effectiveness of its distance education programs (including assessments of
     student learning outcomes, student retention, and student satisfaction) to
     ensure comparability to campus-based programs.” The two other agencies
     do not explicitly require such comparisons.




     Page 15                                                        GAO-04-78T
                        Finally, we found that if some statutory requirements—requirements that
Certain Statutory       were designed to prevent fraud and abuse in distance education—remain
Requirements            as they are, increasing numbers of students will lose eligibility for the
                        federal student aid programs. Our preliminary work shows that 9 schools
Limiting Federal Aid    that are participating in Education’s Distance Education Demonstration
to Students Involved    Program16 collectively represent about 200,000 students whose eligibility
                        for financial aid could be adversely affected without changes to the 50
in Distance Education   percent rule—a statutory requirement that limits aid to students who
May Cause Some          attend institutions that have 50 percent or more of their students or
Students to Lose        courses involved in distance education. As part of the demonstration
                        program, 7 of the 9 schools received waivers from Education to the 50
Eligibility for Such    percent rule so that their students can continue to receive federal financial
Aid                     aid. We identified 5 additional schools representing another 8,500 students
                        that are subject to, or may be subject to, the rule in the near future if their
                        distance education programs continue to expand. These 5 schools have
                        not received waivers from Education.

                        While the number of schools currently affected is small in comparison to
                        the over 6,000 postsecondary schools in the country, this is an important
                        issue for more than 200,000 students who attend these schools. In deciding
                        whether to eliminate or modify these rules, the Congress and the
                        Administration will need to ensure that changes to federal student aid
                        statutes and regulations do not increase the chances of fraud, waste, and
                        abuse to federal student financial aid programs.


                        Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. I will be happy to respond to
                        any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee might have.




                        16
                         The Congress created the demonstration program in the 1998 amendments to the Higher
                        Education Act to study and test possible solutions to federal student aid issues related to
                        distance education. The program has authority to grant waivers on certain statutory or
                        regulatory requirements related to distance education and the federal student financial aid
                        programs.



                        Page 16                                                                        GAO-04-78T
                  For further information, please contact Cornelia M. Ashby at (202) 512-
Contacts and      8403. Individuals making key contributions to this testimony include Jerry
Acknowledgments   Aiken, Neil Asaba, Kelsey Bright, Jill Peterson, and Susan Zimmerman.




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                  Page 17                                                         GAO-04-78T
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