U.S. Department of Education Delivering $6 Billion in Student Emergency Grants via Institutions

On April 9, 2020, the Secretary of Education announced the availability of more than $6 billion for immediate distributed to colleges and universities to provide direct emergency cash grants to college students through the authority of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The CARES Act provides nearly $14 billion to support postsecondary education students and institutions. Colleges and universities are required to utilize the $6.28 billion made available today to provide cash grants to students for expenses related to disruptions to their educations due to the COVID-19 outbreak, including things like course materials and technology as well as food, housing, health care, and childcare. In order to access the funds, the Department must receive a signed certification from the higher education institution affirming they will distribute the funds in accordance with applicable law. The college or university will then determine which students will receive the cash grants.

School allocations are set by formula prescribed in the CARES Act that is weighted significantly by the number of full-time students who are Pell-eligible but also takes into consideration the total population of the school and the number of students who were not enrolled full-time online before the coronavirus outbreak. The Department is utilizing the most recent data available from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and Federal Student Aid (FSA) for this calculation.

Institutions will receive allocations and guidance for the institutional share of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund in the coming weeks. Institutions will be able to use these funds to cover costs associated with significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus.

Additional information on institution-level funding for students, including data tables, can be found here. The Secretary’s letter to college and university presidents with additional information on this funding allocation can be found here.

https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/secretary-devos-rapidly-delivers-more-6-billion-emergency-cash-grants-college-students-impacted-coronavirus-outbreak

May 4, 2020 Deadline for Public Comment on Important Distance Education Rulemaking

On April 1, the U.S. Department of Education (“USDE”) published a long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for Distance Education and Innovation in the Federal Register. The proposed regulations are the final part of the consensus negotiated rulemaking that occurred in 2019. This regulation comes at an important time as institutions across the country are transitioning to varying forms of distance education due to COVID-19, albeit temporary or longer term. The NPRM represents the next step in the Department’s agenda to modernize its distance education regulations to promote innovation and reflect technological advancements, while protecting program quality. One key component of the NPRM is the new proposed definition of “regular” and “substantive” interaction between instructors and students for Title IV eligibility purposes. In the past, Title IV institutions have been assessed multi-million dollar fines for violating substantive and regular interaction requirements that were not well-defined in regulation. The NPRM also proposes revised credit and clock hour definitions directly addressing distance education and makes changes to recognize subscription based delivery of online education.

If your institution offers distance education and/or direct assessment programs, you should strongly consider analyzing and commenting on the proposed regulations. The Department has indicated that the Final Rule will be published by November 1, 2020, to allow an effective date of July 1, 2021. Comments are due by May 4, 2020 and must be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal or via postal mail, commercial delivery, or hand delivery. The Department will not accept comments submitted by fax or by email or those submitted after the comment period.

Summary of the Major Provisions

As provided in the NPRM, the proposed regulations would:

  • Clarify that when calculating the number of correspondence students, a student is considered ‘‘enrolled in a correspondence course’’ if correspondence courses constitute 50 percent or more of the courses in which the student enrolled during an award year;
  • Limit the requirement for the Secretary’s approval to an institution’s first direct assessment program at each credential level;
  • Require institutions to report to the Secretary when they add a second or subsequent direct assessment program or establish a written arrangement for an ineligible institution or organization to provide more than 25 percent, but no more than 50 percent, of a program;
  • Require prompt action by the Department on any applications submitted by an institution to the Secretary seeking a determination that it qualifies as an eligible institution and any reapplications for a determination that the institution continues to meet the requirements to be an eligible institution for HEA programs;
  • Allow students enrolled in eligible foreign institutions to complete up to 25 percent of an eligible program at an eligible institution in the United States; and clarify that, notwithstanding this provision, an eligible foreign institution may permit a Direct Loan borrower to perform research in the United States for not more than one academic year if the research is conducted during the dissertation phase of a doctoral program;
  • Clarify the conditions under which a participating foreign institution may enter into a written arrangement with an ineligible entity;
  • Provide flexibility to institutions to modify their curriculum at the recommendations of industry advisory boards and without relying on a traditional faculty-led decision-making process;
  • Provide flexibility to institutions when conducting clock-to-credit hour conversions to eliminate confusion about the inclusion of homework time in the clock-hour determination;
  • Clarify the eligibility requirements for a direct assessment program;
  • Clarify, in consideration of the challenges to institutions posed by minimum program length standards associated with occupational licensing requirements, which vary from State to State, that an institution may demonstrate a reasonable relationship between the length of a program, as defined in 20 U.S.C. 1001(b)(1), and the entry-level requirements of the occupation for which that program prepares students;
  • Clarify that a student is not considered to have withdrawn for purposes of determining the amount of title IV grant or loan assistance that the student earned if the student completes all the requirements for graduation for a non-term program or a subscription based program, if the student completes one or more modules that comprise 50 percent or more of the number of days in the payment period, or if the institution obtains written confirmation that the student will resume attendance in a subscription-based or non-term program;
  • Clarify satisfactory academic progress requirements for non-term credit or clock programs, term-based programs that are not a subscription based program, and subscription-based programs;
  • Remove provisions pertaining to the use and calculation of the Net Present Value of institutional loans for the calculation of the 90/10 ratio for for-profit IHEs, because the provisions are no longer applicable;
  • Clarify that the Secretary will rely on the requirements established by an institution’s accrediting agency or State authorizing agency to evaluate an institution’s appeal of a final audit or program review determination that includes a finding about the institution’s classification of a course or program as distance education, or the institution’s assignment of credit hours;
  • Clarify that the Secretary may deny an institution’s application for certification or recertification to participate in the title IV, HEA programs if an institution is not financially responsible or does not submit its audits in a timely manner; and
  • Clarify that an institution is not financially responsible if a person who exercises substantial ownership or control over an institution also exercised substantial ownership or control over another institution that closed without executing a viable teach-out plan or agreement.

 

U.S. Department of Education Posts Updated COVID-19 Guidance for Institutions Following Enactment of CARES Act

Late on Friday, April 3, the Department posted updated guidance for institutions that recognizes the regulatory flexibilities authorized by Congress in the CARES Act, but also addresses other areas including Clery Act,  Distance Education, Foreign Schools and FERPA, among other issues relevant to the COVID-19 interruption. The guidance is effective through June 30, 2020 unless otherwise extended by the Department. The Higher Education Relief Fund portion of CARES ACT is not addressed and will be the subject of future guidance.

ELECTRONIC ANNOUNCEMENTS

– April 03, 2020
(OPE Announcements) Subject: UPDATED Guidance for interruptions of study related to Coronavirus (COVID-19)
https://ifap.ed.gov/electronic-announcements/040320UPDATEDGuidanceInterruptStudyRelCOVID19

Department of Education Issues Guidance on Safeguarding Civil Rights During COVID-19 Pandemic

As with all crises, this pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation that is forcing schools to quickly implement new policies and practices, often operating on limited information and without the usual procedural safeguards and vetting. Such an environment creates a risk of the unintended consequences of those new policies/procedures resulting in potentially discriminatory effects to students.

Recognizing this risk, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights published guidance on March 16, 2020, reminding schools that students’ civil rights must be safeguarded during responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. OCR’s guidance encourages schools to take measures to protect against COVID-19, but to do so in a manner that is free from discrimination and continues to accommodate people with disabilities.

To read the full text of this Duane Morris Alert, please visit the firm website.

Department of Education Issues Guidance on Safeguarding Civil Rights During COVID-19 Pandemic

As with all crises, this pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation that is forcing schools to quickly implement new policies and practices, often operating on limited information and without the usual procedural safeguards and vetting. Such an environment creates a risk of the unintended consequences of those new policies/procedures being overlooked, resulting in potentially discriminatory effects to students.

Recognizing this risk, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights published guidance on March 16, 2020, reminding schools that students’ civil rights must be safeguarded during responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. OCR’s guidance encourages schools to take measures to protect against COVID-19, but to do so in a manner that is free from discrimination and continues to accommodate people with disabilities.

The Department of Education focused on a few key areas as examples of potential pitfalls: Continue reading “Department of Education Issues Guidance on Safeguarding Civil Rights During COVID-19 Pandemic”

U.S. Department of Education Issues COVID-19 Guidance

Due to the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that institutions of higher education consider postponing or canceling upcoming study abroad or foreign exchange programs. However, this advice has raised pressing questions about how this would affect Title IV, Higher Education Act (HEA) federal financial aid and a student’s ability to finish the term if a program is interrupted or canceled. In response, on March 5, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) offered guidance permitting temporary flexibility and clarifying how higher education institutions can continue to comply with Title IV regulations for students whose activities are impacted by COVID-19.

View the full Alert on the Duane Morris LLP website.

U.S. Department of Education Publishes State Authorization Rule

On November 1, 2019, the U.S. Department of Education published the Final Regulations for accreditation and state authorization. This notice focuses on the updates to State Authorization of Distance and Correspondence Education. The effective date will be July 1, 2020, with early implementation allowed at the discretion of each institution or agency for sections § 600.2, § 600.9, § 668.43 and § 668.50 (described herein). The rule is the product of consensus negotiated rulemaking. The regulations address the role of reciprocity agreements, update the language regarding student location, clarify required state authorizations for distance education programs, and revise consumer disclosure requirements. Continue reading “U.S. Department of Education Publishes State Authorization Rule”

U.S. Department of Education Rejects California’s Student Complaint Process But Provides Path to Compliance

Late on Friday, August 2, 2019, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to the California Department of Consumer Affairs that rejected California’s proposed complaint process for Californians attending online programs offered by out-of-state public and nonprofit institutions, but provided a clear path to compliance and a promise not to disrupt federal student aid, assuming California takes the steps outlined in the letter. We previously summarized aspects of the 2016 State Authorization Rule in our July 23, 2019, and July 26, 2019, Alerts.

Here are four key takeaways from the Department’s letter.

1. Federal student aid to Californians will not be disrupted IF California takes the steps outlined in the letter to meet the 2016 State Authorization requirements.

The Department’s August 2 letter “assumes” California will do three things: (1) modify its plan to refer student complaints to a California state agency for adjudication, (2) require a California state agency to oversee the investigation of the student complaints and resolve them, according to applicable California state law, and (3) receive complaints regarding issues starting from at least May 26, 2019, the date that the 2016 regulations went into effect.

To read the full text of this Alert, please visit the Duane Morris website.

California-Based Institutions Exempt in Other States Could Also Be Impacted by U.S. Department of Education’s Rules for Online Programs

We reported earlier this week on the U.S. Department of Education’s July 22, 2019, announcement, which clarified that California students attending online programs offered by out-of-state nonprofit and public institutions are not currently eligible for Title IV Federal Student Aid because of lack of a student complaint process. This issue is not limited to California students and could similarly impact students in many states across the country attending online programs offered by all California colleges and universities, including nonprofit, public and for-profit schools. California-based colleges and universities offering online programs in other states must seek state-by-state authorization or exemption because California does not participate in SARA (State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement). Many of these states do not provide a complaint process for exempt institutions.

View the full Alert on the Duane Morris LLP website.