Rules for Taking Online or Distance Education Courses

Online courses have become increasingly popular for students, and many colleges and universities have greatly expanded their online and distance education course offerings in the past few years. Additionally, many students sponsored by their governments are prohibited in enrolling in online courses, and should be sure to clarify any restrictions with their sponsors.

U.S. Federal regulations limit the number of online courses an F-1 student can count towards a full-time course load during a required term.  Here is the text of the federal regulation:

For F-1 students enrolled in classes for credit or classroom hours, no more than the equivalent of one class or three credits per session, term, semester, trimester, or quarter may be counted toward the full course of study requirement if the class is taken online or through distance education and does not require the student's physical attendance for classes, examination or other purposes integral to completion of the class. An online or distance education course is a course that is offered principally through the use of television, audio, or computer transmission including open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, or satellite, audio conferencing, or computer conferencing.

Distance education as only course in the final semester of study?

The regulations are silent on the question of whether a distance education course can satisfy the full course of study requirement if it is the only course taken in the final semester of study. However, in the March 2008 SEVIS Liaison Call , SEVP told NAFSA:

If a student needs only one course to finish his or her program of study, it cannot be taken through online/distance education. There must be a physical presence requirement for the course. If a student remains in the United States without reporting to any class, it becomes a security issue and cannot be allowed

What does this mean?

For Florida Tech F-1 students, a full-time course load is usually only required only during the Fall and Spring semesters. Unless it is their first semester in a program, there is no requirement that students be enrolled during the Summer session, which is considered an optional vacation. Therefore, an F-1 student can take as many online or distance education courses from Florida Tech or from another institution as they wish (with approval from the Registrar) during the Summer session. However, during the Fall and Spring semesters, an F-1 student is limited to only one online or distance education course that can be counted towards a full-time course load. Once having met their full load requirement, a student may add as many distance education or online courses as he or she wishes.

On Site Component, "Blended" Courses

If a student is enrolled in an online course which puts them above and beyond their allowable limit , a "blended" on-site component needs to be followed, i.e. the instructor of the course must set up specific, recurring-on campus requirements, and all examinations must be taken on-site at Florida Tech.   In addition, both student and instructor should complete an On site Component Report for International Students taking Online Courses"and submit to the Office of International Student and Scholar Services during the first week of classes for a given term.

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