Today, the Pennsylvania Senate approved legislation (SB 53) sponsored by Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf (R, Montgomery, Bucks) that would permanently allow for distance education to be included in the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) State Grant Program.
In 2013, the General Assembly approved Senator Greenleaf’s legislation creating a five year pilot program—the State Grant Distance Education Pilot Program (SGDEPP)—permitting students who take the majority of their courses online to apply for PHEAA grants (Act 59 of 2013). SB 53 would make the pilot program permanent.
“Previously, students who didn’t earn at least half of their credits in the classroom were barred from being eligible for PHEAA grants,” said Senator Greenleaf. “This was unfair to many who are taking advantage of distance learning opportunities. I believe this move will encourage more students who don’t have the opportunity to attend traditional classroom programs to pursue valuable degrees. Nearly everyone must complete some form of higher education or training in order to gain meaningful employment. Many adults need further education to advance or change careers. Distance learning is the right choice for many people, and they deserve the same opportunities for PHEAA grants as all other students.”
Based on data for the first three years of the current pilot program, over $24.25 million in grants have been awarded to nearly 13,000 students at 91 participating schools. Based on data from PHEAA regarding student performance, recipients earned high marks in credit completion, which is a strong measure of student success toward degree attainment. 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, recipients earned a higher average cumulative GPA than the comparable general undergraduate population in the same programs of study at SGDEPP schools.
The PHEAA Board has recommended that the State Grant Program become permanent, starting with the 2017-18 Academic Year.