As more Pennsylvania college students find difficulty in receiving financial aid for their online courses, the state is evaluating the fairness of their policy that limits the number of online courses a student can take to 50 percent, if they want to remain eligible of state grants.

The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) realized that the nature of student learning is changing, and an increasing number of students are taking the majority of their classes online: Whereas in 1999 Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) had 120 students enrolled in its online program, the school now has more than 5,000 students in the same program.

Pennsylvania universities (including schools such as Bloomsburg University, Lock Haven University and West Chester University) have witnessed a rise in online enrollment across the board, and increased their offering of 2,959 courses in 2010 to the current number of 3,764 online courses.

Hence, the agency decided to investigating altering the policy for the 2012-2013 school year.

Jim Carideo, director of financial aid at HACC, said he estimates that about 200 students lose their eligibility for financial aid due to the current rule regarding online class enrollment.

Yet online college students are one of the fastest growing education segments in the state and throughout the world, and many government officials and members of administration are concerned about keeping up with the future of education.

Senator Stewart Greenleaf of R-Montgomery Country, for example, said the standing rules regarding grant money are discriminatory and online college students should have the same opportunities as those students who attend traditional brick and mortar college classes.

Still, PHEAA and those who support a change in policy want to ensure that the state has the resources required to meet the demands of growth in online education, if a change in policy really does take place.

Therefore, evaluation of the current grant limitations will be executed with a study to prove the importance of changing the limitations, with a distance-education study group supervised by PHEAA. The group will be comprised of 8-12 higher education students who will meet starting May 2011, with initial findings revealed February 2012.

Greenleaf said he is confident that the study will result in the necessary change of policy, as the study reveals the major effect the standing rule has on students who can’t afford to take all the classes they desire.

Likewise, university programs across the nation are hoping for similar changes in policy.

For example, the California university program has about 2,000 students enrolled in online courses, but the number should witness substantial growth in the coming years.

California University’s director of web-based programs Millie Rodriguez said she thinks the student enrollment levels in online classes will increase as limits in grant eligibility are lifted.

She encourages the raising of grant limits, saying Web-based course work should be viewed as the norm in the modern age.

California university students who are currently enrolled exclusively in online classes can receive loans, but not grant funding.

Rodriguez said thinks students would benefit from a change in policy and enroll in even more online classes as grant funding becomes more readily available.

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