Repealing the 50 percent rule

Are career colleges enrolling more students online?

Today’s students are of every age, gender and income bracket. She’s a single mother. He’s stationed overseas. They’re the people striving to gain the skills necessary to succeed in a market demanding highly educated workers. They’re the people who now have easier access to a new frontier in education thanks to a landmark decision made in Congress last March to repeal the 50 percent rule.

The 50 percent rule was first implemented in 1992 to combat the questionable practices of a few schools that acted mainly as diploma mills, offering empty degrees through their online courses. In the years since the implementation of this rule, the use of the Internet for quality education has grown in popularity and practicality. Students with hectic lifestyles are drawn to the convenience of online courses they can take whenever and wherever is most convenient for them. The 50 percent rule, once put into place to protect the student, soon became out-of-date and was in fact hurting those who just wanted a quality education.

The repeal of the 50 percent rule did away with the requirement that colleges must provide at least half of their course offerings at an on-site campus rather than online to be eligible for federal financial aid.

Now students have access to more and varied online degree and certificate programs since these limitations have been lifted. Schools can offer all of their courses online and still enable their students to qualify for federal financial aid.

Three months after the repeal

While many anticipated a huge boom in the career college industry, it may be too soon to tell whether the repeal of the 50 percent rule will have those expected effects.

The University of Phoenix is one of the largest providers of online degrees with over 65 Internet-based programs. Joe Cockrell, the University’s public relations manager, believes that scrapping the 50 percent rule will have lasting effects in the for-profit education industry, especially in smaller or emerging schools.

These smaller schools now have the ability to expand their course offerings and student base without the financial burden of increasing their onsite facilities. Rather than being limited to attracting half of their student population from their local communities, they’re now free to attract students from around the globe to enroll in their online programs.

He also believes that the new policy will have lasting effects beyond industry growth because it will “allow greater access to higher education.”

Given time and the continued advancement of computer and Internet technology, the repeal of the 50 percent rule may create access to higher education for an astounding number of people. Geographic, time and financial constraints may no longer be a barrier to those seeking career training as more schools have the option of increasing their online course offerings without penalty.

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