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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 7, 1998


"Valuable technologies also are important for providing opportunities in higher education at a time when college is becoming ever more crucial.... making courses available at convenient locations; reducing time constraints for course-taking; making educational opportunities more affordable; and increasing the institutions' access to new audiences. This is why [we] proposed a number of changes to the Higher Education Act that will broaden learning opportunities...."

                     --Secretary Riley, US Distance Learning
                     Association, National Conference, November 5, 1997

The Higher Education Amendments of 1998 significantly increase the number of students who can benefit from distance education by authorizing or adapting two Administration initiatives: Distance Education Demonstration Programs and the Learning Anytime Anywhere Partnerships (LAAP) program. Distance education can help all Americans -- including workers, parents, people in rural communities and people with disabilities -- go to college by removing barriers of time and place through innovative uses of technology.

Only about one-third of all higher education institutions offered distance education in 1995, and they served fewer than one million students. While colleges and universities have been exploring the uses of technology, its capacity for increasing access to higher education has been limited because of restrictions on financial aid availability for distance learners.

Distance Education Demonstration Programs. The new law authorizes Demonstration Programs to increase student access to higher education and to determine the best way to deliver quality education through distance learning. Because the current eligibility requirements for higher education institutions do not address the special needs and circumstances of distance learners, needy students are sometimes ineligible for financial aid. The Demonstration Programs will expand student aid eligibility for distance learners by allowing the Secretary of Education to waive specific statutory and regulatory student aid requirements for participating institutions. Among the requirements that may be waived are those regarding measures of an academic year, minimum hours spent in the classroom, and the percentage of an institution's students who may be served by distance education. These changes will provide new flexibility for institutions to offer high-quality distance education programs. Up to 15 degree-granting institutions, consortia, or systems of institutions may participate in Distance Education Demonstration Programs during the first and second years, and up to 50 may participate in the third year.

Learning Anytime Anywhere Partnerships (LAAP). The new law authorizes the LAAP program, which will provide competitive grants to partnerships to ensure that high-quality learning opportunities are available to distance education students. The partnerships will develop and assess model distance education programs and educational software and find innovative measures of student achievement that are appropriate for distance education. Eligible partnerships will include two or more independent organizations, such as: colleges, community-based organizations, technical institutes, adult education programs, school districts, and businesses. LAAP grants will encourage institutions and their partners to work together to provide high-quality distance education programs that challenge traditional geographic and institutional boundaries. The new law authorizes this program at $10 million in FY99, and the Senate FY99 Appropriations bill provides the full $10 million. The House FY99 Appropriations bill does not provide the full amount.