Tag Archives: Duane Morris Alerts

U.S. Department of Education Makes Available CARES Act Funds for Institutions of Higher Education

On April 21, 2020, the Department made available the institutional portion of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) under Section 18004(a)(1) and 18004(c) of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

By statute, the institutional HEERF funds are to be used to cover any costs associated with significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus so long as such costs do not include payment to contractors for the provision of pre-enrollment recruitment activities, including marketing and advertising; endowments; or capital outlays associated with facilities related to athletics, sectarian instruction, or religious worship.

Through an associated FAQ, the Department has provided further guidance and limitations on use of the institutional HEERF funds:

  • An institution must enter into the Funding Certification and Agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to receive and distribute Emergency Financial Aid Grants to Students in order to be eligible to receive the institutional HEERF portion of the funds. In other words, institutions cannot select only to receive the institutional, but not student, portion of the HEERF funds provided by Congress.
  • Institutions that have provided refunds to students for room and board, tuition, and other fees (such as activities fees) may use the institutional HEERF funds to reimburse themselves, so long as the institution can demonstrate that such costs were incurred as a result of significant changes to the delivery of instruction, including interruptions in instruction, due to coronavirus. Institutions will need to be able to document how those reimbursements are related to the COVID-19 interruption. 
  • Institutions may reimburse themselves for refunds previously made to students on or after March 13, 2020, but only if they can demonstrate that such refunds were necessitated by significant changes to the delivery of instruction, including interruptions in instruction, due to coronavirus.
  • Institutions may use institutional HEERF funds for costs incurred by the institution to purchase laptops, hotspots, or other IT equipment and software necessary to enable students to participate in distance learning as a result of the coronavirus interruption.
  • Institutions that purchased computers or other equipment to donate or provide to students on or after March 13, 2020 may reimburse themselves for those costs, again if tied to need arising from the coronavirus interruption.
  • The institutional HEERF funds can be used to make additional emergency financial aid grants to students (to supplement the student HEERF funds), provided that such grants are for expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus (including eligible expenses under a student’s cost of attendance, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care). Only students who are or could be eligible to participate in programs under Section 484 in Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA), may receive emergency financial aid grants.
  • At institutions that provide both online and ground-based education, students who were enrolled exclusively in online programs on March 13, 2020 are not eligible for emergency financial aid grants, as the Department’s position is that students who were enrolled exclusively in online programs would not have expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus. Fully 100% online institutions were already ineligible for HEERF funding.
  • Institutional HEERF funds may be used to award scholarships or to provide payment for future academic terms only if the institution can demonstrate that such grants are needed for expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus. If provided to students in the form of emergency financial aid,  such uses are allowable.
  • Institutional HEERF funds can be used to pay a per-student fee to a third-party service provider, including an Online Program Manager (OPM), for each additional student using the distance learning platform, learning management system, online resources, or other support services; however, institutions may not use institutional HEERF funds to pay third-party recruiters or OPMs for recruiting or enrolling new students at the institution.
  • The Funding and Certification Agreement that institutions must sign also makes clear that institutional HEERF funds cannot be used for: senior administrator and/or executive salaries, benefits, bonuses, contracts, incentives; stock buybacks, shareholder dividends, capital distributions, and stock options; and any other cash or other benefit for a senior administrator or executive.

More information on CARES Act grant resources and guidance can be found on the Office of Postsecondary Education’s webpage: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/caresact.html

 

 

U.S. Department of Education Q&A on Use of Federal Grant Funds During COVID-19

On April 8, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education published a Q&A that answers questions related to use of Department grant funds during the novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) with respect to compensation, travel, and conference costs that are otherwise allowable costs under applicable program statutes and regulations. factsheet-fiscal-questions

 

 

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

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.

U.S. Department of Education Confirms New Reporting Requirements Apply to Public Colleges and Universities

On June 3, 2019, the U.S. Department of Education issued a Q&A document regarding compliance with the BDR Rule that confirmed that the reporting requirements for certain “triggering” events will be enforced at all institutions, including public colleges and universities. This information supplements the Department’s March 15, 2019, guidance regarding the 2016 BDR Rule.

The Department’s Q&A makes clear that public institutions are required to report, pursuant to 34 C.F.R. 668.171(h), the following events within the stated time periods:

  • Borrower-defense-related lawsuits brought by a federal or state authority: within 10 days after the institution is served with the complaint and then again within 10 days after the suit has been pending for 120 days.
  • All other lawsuits: within 10 days after the institution is served with a complaint, then again within 10 days after the court sets certain deadlines relating to motions for summary judgment (MSJ) or disposition, and then a third time within 10 days after certain events relating to an MSJ or dispositive motion occur.
  • Any debt or liability arising from a final judgment in a judicial or administrative proceeding: within 10 days after a payment was required or the liability was incurred.
  • Any settlement, including settlements reached prior to the initiation of a formal legal proceeding: within 10 days after a payment was required or a liability was incurred.

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

Deadline Draws Near for Compliance with U.S. Department of Education’s 2016 Borrower Defense to Repayment (BDR) Rule

The deadline for complying with certain provisions of the U.S. Department of Education’s borrower defense regulations is Tuesday, May 14. These requirements are summarized briefly below and in greater detail in our March 21, 2019, Alert and April 9, 2019, Alert.

Arbitration Agreements and Class Action Waivers

Starting Tuesday, May 14, schools must either stop using binding predispute arbitration agreements and class action waivers or include the language from the regulation removing borrower defense claims from the scope of these agreements. In addition, starting May 14, students who previously signed a binding predispute arbitration agreement must be provided with specified notice language no later than upon exit counseling or the filing of the school’s initial response to a demand for arbitration or service of a complaint involving a borrower defense claim.

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

The Trouble with Triggers: Newly Effective Postsecondary Institution Reporting Obligations Under the Borrower Defense to Repayment Rule

Specifically, this Alert explains the obligations of postsecondary institutions participating in Title IV, Higher Education Act (HEA) programs to affirmatively report to the Department the occurrence of certain “triggering” events that occur after March 15, 2019, many of which must be reported to the Department within 10 days of occurrence.

This Alert also describes the “grace period” provided by the Department in the guidance for institutions to affirmatively report to the Department certain triggering events that have already occurred between July 1, 2017, and March 15, 2019 (the period from the effective date of the 2016 BDR Rule to the date of the guidance). The deadline for reporting events occurring during the grace period is May 14, 2019.

As explained below, the 2016 BDR Rule contains both “mandatory” and “discretionary” triggering events that, after reporting, may cause the Department to recalculate the institution’s composite score—a ratio used by the Department to measure an institution’s financial health. If the recalculated score fails or is in the zone, it could lead to a letter of credit or letter of credit alternative requirement, heightened cash monitoring restrictions, provisional Program Participation Agreement status and/or other Title IV participation restrictions.

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

Implementing the 2016 Borrower Defense to Repayment (BDR) Rule – Arbitration Agreements and Class Action Waivers

This Alert addresses the actions that postsecondary institutions participating in the federal Direct Loan Program must take now and in the near future if they require students to enter into binding pre-dispute arbitration agreements or class action waivers with the institution. Below, we address how the guidance may affect ongoing arbitrations and current and future arbitration agreements. We will cover the financial responsibility reporting requirement triggers in our next Alert.

The March 15, 2019, guidance makes clear that the 2016 BDR Rule is now in effect. Accordingly, schools are no longer permitted to rely on binding pre-dispute arbitration agreements and class action waivers with Direct Loan borrowers in connection with so-called “borrower defense claims.” Borrower defense claims are those based on an act or omission of the institution attended by the claimant student that relates to the making of a Direct Loan for enrollment at the institution or the provision of educational services for which the loan was provided. The guidance excludes, for example, personal injury tort claims and sexual and racial harassment claims from being categorized as borrower defense claims. Other claims, such as educational malpractice claims, may also be excluded, so long as they do not meet the definition of a borrower defense claim.

Schools should keep in mind certain key deadlines as they work with counsel to determine the best path forward for complying with the 2016 BDR Rule.

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