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EIC / Distance Learning / Articles / How to find funds for your studies

How to find funds for your studies.

Online learning might be more convenient than traditional schooling, but finding the money to finance your E-education is not. Because online learning can be expensiveЦthe tuition costs of many good programs are at least as much as those of campus-based schoolsЦmost online students have to reach deepinto their own pockets. Still, there are plenty of places to turn to forfundsЦfrom the feds to your employer.

Your first stop should be the U.S. Department of Education, which manages financial aid programs offering both need-based grants and loans (http://www.ed.gov/). Only undergraduates may apply for the grants, so if you're studying at the graduate level you can forget about an outright federal award. Both undergrads and grad students, however, may apply for the need-based loans. In fact,grad students are eligible for as much as $138,500 in low-interest loansover the course of their schooling.

As you evaluate aid options, keep in mind that not all online universities participate in federal aid programs. The reason is that, historically, many schools with distance programs had little academic merit (see story), and fleeced federal aid programs while cheating students out of an education. The government responded by cutting off aid programs to schools where more than half the students studied ata distance. The rise of legitimate distance programs has changed the picture, but federal regulations haven't yet caught up. In the meantime, Congresshas approved a pilot program that allows some 100 schools to waive the restrictive funding regulations. Still, some well-known virtual schools, such as National Technological University, have not signed up for the program, so it paysto check carefully before choosing among schools.

For other aid, you may be able to turn to your employer. Most large corporations have tuition reimbursement programs to help staffers pay for courses related to their jobs. GeneralElectric, for instance, pays the full cost of employee Bryan Mosher's pursuitof an M.B.A. through Jones International University. That's fortunate forthe Geneseo, Ill., resident, because he is hoping to put both his childrenthrough college while finishing his own degree.

Uncle Sam. One big employer, the U.S. military, reimburses active-duty personnel up to 75 percent of their tuition up to $3,500 per yearЦwhether they study on campus or online. Distance students are required to front the full cost of a course and are paid back if they earn a D or better.

As a last resort, E-learners can turn to private lenders. Sallie Mae, the nation's largest student-loan provider, offers an array of loan types, including some tailored to part-time students. But interest rates are higher on private than on federal loans. Private loans also can be harder to secure because private lenders scrutinize borrowers' credit records.

If you are still unsure whether the online learning route is the right one for you and your wallet, tryconsulting the State University of New York online at sln.suny.edu. The site has acalculator that allows you to figure out if studying through SUNY's onlinearm will save you money. If it does, enrollment is only a click away.

Authors: UlrichBoser and Ben Harder.

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