Government agency says more data needed to assess online education offerings

While many academic experts are forthright in their praise of online education programs, a new report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) suggests the U.S. Department of Education doesn't have the necessary data to properly evaluate these initiatives and their effectiveness when compared to a traditional educational setting.

This topic is of particular interest to the federal government, as the U.S. Department of Education provides more than $130 billion in financial aid to students, many of whom are choosing to take all or part of their courses online.

With this report, the GAO aimed to assess not only the quality of online education offerings but also the characteristics of the students and programs themselves. However, its findings, which were released on November 17, were inconclusive, only finding that more data was needed to assess online programs. Still, many support further studies that could provide answers.

"Distance education programs can expand access to postsecondary education for some of our most disadvantaged students," U.S. Representatives George Miller and Ruben Hinojosa said in joint statement. "We must remain vigilant in our efforts to protect the integrity of these programs and the student and taxpayer investments in them."

Despite the need for further government study into these programs, prospective students can rest assured that many of the offerings they find online are comparable to those individuals can attain a classroom setting. For instance, those who want to pursue specialized certifications may find that they are able to gain the skills they need for the workforce through online offerings without making a substantial investment in costly college classes.

Online training that can prepare students for Microsoft or Oracle certification are widely available. When looking to achieve these resume boosters, students should first compare online institutions, evaluating the strength of their staff, cost and flexibility. 

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