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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: June 14, 2016 05:37 PM
From: Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf
To: All Senate members
Subject: Distance Education inclusion in PHEAA State Grant Program
I plan to introduce legislation that would permanently allow for distance education inclusion in the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) State Grant Program.

In 2013, I sponsored legislation amending the Higher Education Scholarship Law to allow PHEAA grants to be available for eligible students wishing to pursue a degree through online (distance) education. Currently, PHEAA regulations require that a student must enroll in an approved program of study that requires at least 50 percent of the credits needed for completion of that program to be earned through classroom instruction and students must enroll in no more than 50 percent of their credits through distance education in any particular term. This 50% rule prevented students who are eligible for a PHEAA Grant from seeking a degree primarily via distance learning as compared to face-to-face learning.

The General Assembly approved the language of my legislation via Act 59 of 2013 providing for the creation of a five-year State Grant Distance Education Pilot Program (SGDEPP) to provide PHEAA grant funding to students who take more than 50 percent of their term credits online or are enrolled in programs of study that are structured to be more than 50 percent online. More and more students are pursuing their education online. The pilot program is funded with $10 million each year from PHEAA’s business earnings. PHEAA has conducted research and analysis of the program including overall student performance among pilot students as compared to traditional college students. Based on data for the first three years of the pilot, while not final, over $24.25 million in grants has been awarded to nearly 13,000 students at 91 participating schools.

Based on data from PHEAA regarding student performance, “SGDEPP recipients earned high marks in credit completion, which is a strong measure of student success toward degree attainment.” “SGDEPP recipients earned 2.97 and 2.98 cumulative GPAs for 2013-14 and 2014-15 award years, respectively. These GPAs translate to approximately a “B” average at most schools. Furthermore, on the whole, SGDEPP recipients earned a higher average cumulative GPA than the comparable general undergraduate population in the same programs of study at SGDEPP schools.”

According to PHEAA, “Results from the pilot program’s first two years illustrate a clear distinction between the populations served by SGDEPP and the traditional State Grant Program. SGDEPP recipients tend to be older, financially independent, part-time female students. In comparison, traditional State Grant recipients as a group are younger, full-time students who are financially dependent on their parent and are more evenly split by gender. Thus, by expanding the State Grant Program, PHEAA will reach a previously unserved need-based segment of the student population and be aligned with contemporary educational delivery methods.”

After careful review and consideration, the PHEAA Board recommended that the 2017-18 award year include an expansion of the State Grant Program to offer grants to PA students who attend institutions that are headquartered and domiciled within the Commonwealth, regardless of the course delivery mode. Basically, the Board supports the pilot program rolling into the State Grant Program permanently, starting with the 2017-18 Academic Year. PHEAA believes that adequate research has been conducted and that this change could occur one year earlier than the sunset of the pilot program, contingent on legislation being approved by the General Assembly. My measure would accomplish this change by expanding State Grant eligibility to include students enrolled in distance education coursework or in distance education programs of study.

Introduced as SB1356