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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., is pleased with a Department of Education decision that could give Wyoming students expanded access to Internet-based distance education programs.

The Department of Education has proposed implementing provisions of the Internet Equity and Education Act of 2001, S. 1445, a bill Enzi introduced last September.

Enzi designed the bill to give more students in rural areas greater access to higher education by removing certain regulatory barriers that currently limit the ability of colleges and universities to expand their distance education programs.

"For students in rural areas a higher education may not always be easily accessible," said Enzi. "The Internet is a valuable tool that can bring colleges and universities to students, bridging many of the barriers that may otherwise prevent them from furthering their education."

The Department of Education's proposed rules would change the definition of a week of instruction for distance education programs to make it similar to what is used for other traditional college courses. Traditional courses require students to have at least one day of regularly scheduled instruction or examination for each course they are enrolled in throughout the week. Distance education courses, however, require students to have 12 hours of instruction per week.

"Changing this rule would allow more students in distance education programs to be eligible for financial aid and will ultimately allow for these students to have greater access to all of the advantages of higher education," said Enzi.

The proposed rules would also allow colleges and universities to compensate people not affiliated with the institution who provide information about the school through the Internet.

"This would help prospective students get information about all of the higher education opportunities that are available," said Enzi.

Another provision of Enzi's bill is not part of the Department of Education's new proposed rules. This provision would allow qualified schools that offer 50 percent of their courses through distance education programs, to also offer federal financial aid to their students.

Enzi will continue to seek legislative passage of this provision of his bill through the best available means.