While it is thought that online learning may capture as much as 20% of all higher education enrolments in the future, recent surveys suggest that this number would be higher if financial aid, scholarships and online education were playing by the same rules. Luckily, times are a changing.

While some might argue that technology is a pale substitute for a brick and mortar educational facility, realizing career ambitions through normal educational channels is difficult for anyone who finds their time spread across family, employment and personal needs. Current technology now allows many of these professionals an alternative method of learning through courses offered 24-hours-a-day through the Internet.

Financing Your Online Education - The Facts and the Fiction
Unfortunately, until recently, financial aid, scholarships and online education worked as well together as oil and water since various legislative decrees placed restrictions on how grants and loans (Title IV institutions) could be applied to higher education.

While distance learning content is the same as that of traditional learning facilities, the rules for receiving financial aid and scholarships are vastly different. The reason is due to degree mills and other fraudulent educational organizations that prompted federal legislation to prevent various abuses.

Financing Your Online Education - Legacy Rules and Restrictions
The 1965 Higher Education act has three "rules," or restrictions, that make it almost impossible for students to apply scholarships or financial aid toward distance learning courses.

The first, known as the "12 hour rule," denies students financial aid if the online course requires less than a half-time commitment to a program. This legislation was intended to prevent unscrupulous schools from stretching out the time of their educational programs without providing any actual additional education. To combat this practice, the rule defined each week of a non-standard program as at least 12 hours of instruction, examination and preparation for testing.

The second rule, known as the "50% rule," denies federal grants, scholarships and financial aid to students taking courses in an institution where more than 50% of the students are distance learners or more than 50% of the courses are offered through the computer, correspondence or video.

The third rule denies students financial aid if they are enrolled in courses that are not tied to a standard educational time frame such as quarters or semesters. These "seat rules" govern how much time must be provided in order for participants to qualify for financial aid. In addition, the "seat time" rule, or regulation, stipulates that students will be denied federal loans or scholarships if there is less than 30 weeks of instruction per year.

Online Students Gain Access to Grants, Scholarships, and Loans
After years of debate, the United States Department of Education has eased some of the restrictions, most notably the 12-hour rule. Now there are two financial aid definitions, one for non-term institutions and another for standard-term institutions. Online programs now must offer at least one day of instruction per week.

For the first time since the advent of online learning, scholarship and financial aid options for students are now the same. In addition to Pell grants and Supplemental Educational Opportunity grants, there are three loan programs available for online students including direct loans, family educational loans and Perkins loans. Low interest Perkins Loans are directed at students who demonstrate the most need. Contact the financial aid office of the school or online program you wish to attend for more options on financing your future.

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