New Data Could Improve Oversight of Distance-Education Programs, GAO Report Says

November 17, 2011

The Education Department has expanded its oversight of distance-education programs but has been hampered by a lack of data on the programs, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

The report, which was requested by Congressional Democrats, found that the department does not know which colleges enroll the most students through distance-education programs, or which programs receive the most federal financial aid. As a result, the department is unable to focus its monitoring on the highest-risk programs.

The report recommends that the department develop a plan to use new data that the National Center for Education Statistics is collecting to guide its oversight efforts. The department agreed with the recommendation.

The release of the report comes on the heels of an investigation by the department's Office of Inspector General into fraud in distance-education programs. Last month, the department sent a letter to colleges urging them to take steps to protect the student-aid programs.

U.S. Rep. George Miller of California, who is the top Democrat on the House of Representatives education committee and among those who requested the GAO report, said the findings show that "we must remain vigilant in our efforts to protect the integrity of these programs and the student and taxpayer investments in them."