The Higher Education Provisions of The American Rescue Plan Act and What to Expect Next

On March 10, 2021, Congress passed the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). Building on previous Congressional relief bills – the CARES Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA) – the ARPA commits significant resources to colleges and universities. In fact, the ARPA directs more money to institutions, in overall totals, than either of the CARES Act or the CRRSAA. Continue reading “The Higher Education Provisions of The American Rescue Plan Act and What to Expect Next”

U.S. Department of Education Solicits Comments on Proposed Institutional Eligibility Criteria for HEERF Supplemental Aid

On February 25th, the U.S. Department of Education published a notice requesting comment on proposed eligibility criteria for implementing the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA), Section 314(a)(3) program, called the Supplemental Aid to Institutions of Higher Education (SAIHE) Program for which Congress authorized at set aside of Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF). The notice also requests public comment on the proposed criteria and application information that the Department will use to determine eligibility. Only public and non-profit institutions of higher education are eligible for funding under Section 314(a)(3).

According to the notice, the Department is proposing to use the following institutional criteria to determine SAIHE eligibility of those institutions with the greatest unmet needs related to COVID-19: Continue reading “U.S. Department of Education Solicits Comments on Proposed Institutional Eligibility Criteria for HEERF Supplemental Aid”

Guidance and Considerations for Masks on Campus: Students and Employees

On January 21, 2021, President Biden issued an Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety. On January 29th, OSHA issued new comprehensive guidance. (See OSHA’s COVID-19 guidance here)

This recent guidance is intended to inform employers and workers outside of the healthcare industry and to assist them in determining up-to-date and appropriate control measures to implement. The guidance encourages employers to create and adhere to a COVID-19 Prevention Program and include the following key elements: conducting a hazard assessment; identifying a combination of measures that limit COVID-19 spread; adopting measures to ensure that workers who are sick are separated and sent home; and implementing protections from retaliation for workers who raise COVID-19 related concerns. The guidance recommends that employers provide all workers with face coverings at no cost. OSHA also notes that, in order to keep employees safe, it is critical that employers monitor compliance with workplace guidelines. Continue reading “Guidance and Considerations for Masks on Campus: Students and Employees”

Biden Administration Confirms Continued Exceptions for Certain International Students and Academics

With a month in office, the Biden Administration is taking steps to reveal its COVID-19 policy approach to international students and academics. On January 25, 2021, the President announced Proclamation #10143, which extended the previous administration’s limitation on travel to the U.S. from the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. On February 10, 2021, the Department of State confirmed that national interest exceptions (NIE) to the travel ban, first issued in October 2020, will remain in place in the new administration. Continue reading “Biden Administration Confirms Continued Exceptions for Certain International Students and Academics”

Temporary Expanded SNAP Benefits for College Students

Expanding access to postsecondary education for low income students includes more than just assistance with tuition and fees. Many low income students also need help with daily food costs while they pursue higher education. That need can adversely impact academic progress if not addressed. Needs have been exacerbated by the pandemic and high unemployment, and impact students whether they study on ground or online. Food insecurity among college students is gaining more attention, with the opening of college food pantries and other community support initiatives. The federal government is also stepping up. The U.S. Department of Education, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has issued new guidance to postsecondary institutions to raise awareness about temporarily expanded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility for students and urges institutions to make students aware of this resource. The expansion of benefits will be in effect until 30 days after the COVID-19 public health emergency is lifted. The new guidance can be found here: https://ifap.ed.gov/electronic-announcements/022321SNAPbenefitseligiblestudsCOVID19pandemic

 

Have COVID’s Pricing and Learning Disruptions Opened a Pandora’s Box?

A common question for colleges today is whether to reduce tuition prices if they cannot provide on-campus classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The short answer, both legally and morally, is that colleges should not charge students for services they cannot or do not deliver.

The ultimate answer is more complex and requires a disaggregating analysis of the services that that were included in the price of tuition, including a review of the value associated with in-person interactions.

To read the full text of this article by Duane Morris partner Tony Guida, please visit the University Business website.

COVID-Related College Tuition Refund Claims Dismissed

Since the global pandemic forced most college campuses to resort to online instruction in March 2020, college students across the country have filed more than 150 lawsuits against their schools seeking refunds of tuition and related fees.

This month, a federal judge in Boston made the first dispositive ruling in such a case against Northeastern University – tossing out most of the claims asserted by the students in a putative class-action matter.  Judge Richard G. Stearns of the District of Massachusetts found in Chong v Northeastern University, 20-10844-RGS, that the contract between the university and its students (the Financial Responsibility Agreement, “FRA”) did not specifically include a right to in-person instruction.  The Judge noted that the FRA ties the payment of tuition to the registration for courses, “not to the receipt of any particular method of course instruction.”

The Judge also dismissed the students’ claims seeking a refund of certain student fees, such as student activity fees, finding that they paid the fees to support certain campus facilities – not necessarily to gain access to them.  Thus, the Court gave no credence to the students’ claims that they should receive a refund of activity fees because the school prevented them from accessing those facilities due to the pandemic.

However, the Court did allow the students’ claims seeking a refund of campus recreation fees to go forward, finding that the students’ payment of those fees may have implicitly created a right to attend home athletic events and use the campus gym and fitness facilities, which ceased on March 12.

Judge Stearns’ ruling may be a sign of things to come for the many similar lawsuits currently pending against colleges and universities throughout the country.  However, as in this case or any breach of contract action, these rulings will likely turn on the specific language of the applicable contract between the institution and the student.

COVID-19 Can Change Everything—If We Let It

According to Dave Clayton, senior vice president of consumer insights at Strada Education Network, hybrid education “was a consistently popular option” throughout a recent survey taken by his organization. It beat out both online and in-person when it came to which option Americans were likely to recommend, as well as which option offered the best preparation for joining the workforce.

Will this change higher education? Of course it will. The market to find students gets more competitive for colleges every year. That trend is predicted to continue long into the future. If today’s junior high schoolers already know that they want “both,” this shift in consumer demand won’t go unnoticed. If college leadership wants the freshman class of 2026 to enroll in their institution, they would be foolish not to adapt.

To read the full text of this article by Duane Morris partner Edward M. Cramp, please visit the University Business website.

Colleges Fear COVID-19 Spread, Class Actions Over Tuition When Welcoming Back Students

Colleges and universities across the country are beginning to figure out what the fall semester for students will look like. In-house counsel at the schools that have chosen to bring students back to campus full-time need to worry about furthering the spread of the new coronavirus and class action litigation over refunds for tuition, housing and service fees.

It is too early to tell how courts will rule on these kinds of lawsuits, Ed Cramp, a partner at Duane Morris in San Diego said. From his perspective, how education is delivered to a student is not something guaranteed by the university. However, the suits asking for a refund of fees for services not used could be problematic.

“The issue for the institutions is that many of them just don’t have the money. It is not a matter of, ‘Let me just write you a check,’” Cramp said.

To read the full text of this article in Corporate Counsel magazine quoting Duane Morris partner Ed Cramp, please visit law.com (subscription required).

U.S. Department of Education Extends Clery Act Annual Security Reporting to December 31

In a welcome bit of regulatory relief at time when institutions of higher education are working to comply with a new Title IX rule by August 14, 2020, the Department announced on July 10 that it is extending the date for institutions to distribute their Annual Security Report (ASR) and Annual Fire Safety Report (AFSR) to required recipients to December 31, 2020 (from October 1). The Department does encourage institutions to distribute their reports on the normal schedule if possible.

In addition, the electronic annual crime and fire statistics survey will now be open now from November 18, 2020 through January 14, 2021 for transmission of data to the Department.

The Department states in its July 10 announcement that it “encourages schools to take appropriate steps to ensure the health and safety of their students and employees, to continue to act in accordance with their campus safety policies and procedures, and to advise the campus community about changing conditions that may affect their safety or any major changes to safety policies or practices.” Institutions continuing or returning to partial or full on ground operations should keep in mind that they are still obligated to comply with their published campus safety policies and procedures, including with regard to emergency notifications and crime statistics collection and reporting. Any changes to published procedures should be communicated to the campus community.

https://ifap.ed.gov/electronic-announcements/040320UPDATEDGuidanceInterruptStudyRelCOVID19