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Federal aid available for distance learning
Online students at LDS schools may get help

WASHINGTON -- Federal student financial aid for online education programs will be available at LDS Church schools in Utah, Idaho and Hawaii in the coming months.

The U.S. Education Department announced Friday which universities providing courses or degree programs online will be allowed to offer their students federal financial aid and the schools owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were included.The 118 institutions in 17 states will offer federal student aid under the Distance Education Demonstration Program, a pilot program approved last year after years of aid restrictions on nontraditional programs.

Congressional lawmakers cautiously expanded federal financial aid to students in such programs following reports of scholarship fraud by correspondence schools several years ago. Ultimately, lawmakers decided to waive a host of federal requirements for how student aid is used.

One such waiver will allow distance-education students at the selected institutions to use their federal aid to buy computers and modems or pay living expenses, all of which are not allowed for traditional college students.

Distance learning supporters worry that federal financial-aid policies -- which change about every five years -- will not keep up with a rapidly changing trend that includes learning via the Internet. Others complain that the selected programs will get an unfair edge in the distance-education market.

Education Secretary Richard W. Riley said in a statement that the pilot project will ensure that students in distance-learning programs get the financial help they need.

Education Department statistics for fall 1998 show that distance education courses were offered by 90 percent of all higher education institutions enrolling more than 10,000 students and 85 percent of schools with enrollments between 3,000 and 10,000 students.

The project will be monitored carefully, Riley said. An additional 35 colleges or groups of colleges may be added for the third year of the five-year program.

The selected programs are:

--LDS Church Education System, Provo, Utah, which consists of four institutions in Hawaii, Utah and Idaho.

--Capella University (formerly The Graduate School of America), Minneapolis, Minn.

--Colorado Community Colleges & Occupational Education System, Denver, Colo., 13 community colleges in Colorado.

--Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, New Britain, Conn., 23 institutions in Connecticut.

--Florida State University,Tallahassee, Fla.

--Franklin University, Columbus, Ohio.

--Masters Institute, San Jose, Calif.

--New York University, N.Y.

--North Dakota University System, Grand Forks, N.Dak., 11 institutions in North Dakota.

--QUEST Education Corp., Davenport, Iowa, which includes Hamilton College and the American Institute of Commerce, both in Iowa.

--Southern Christian University, Montgomery, Ala.

--Southwest Consortium for the Advancement of Technology in Education, Lubbock, Texas, 14 schools in Texas and New Mexico.

--University of Maryland University College, College Park, Md.

--Washington State University, Pullman, Wash.

--Washington Community and Technical College Online Consortium, Tacoma, Wash., 44 colleges in Washington.

--Western Governors University, Aurora, Colo.