On April 6, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a new letter to students, educators, and stakeholders indicating the process that the Biden Administration will be undertaking on the issues surrounding the Title IX regulations. While light on details, the letter does provide a roadmap for OCR’s next steps and what colleges and universities can expect in the Title IX regulatory arena in the near future. Continue reading “Another Hint? Interpreting How the Biden Administration Will Approach Title IX Regulations”
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”
On March 17, 2021, Southern District of New York Judge Lorna G. Schofield ruled that most of the 2019 Borrower Defense to Repayment Rule would survive cross-motions for summary judgement. On one issue, however, Judge Schofield ruled for the Plaintiff, the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), finding that the 2019 Rule’s three-year statute of limitations on defensive claims was not a logical outgrowth of and deviated too sharply from the 2018 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Continue reading “The 2019 Borrower Defense Rule Survives Summary Judgment (Mostly) Intact”
On March 8, 2021, the Federal Student Aid office (“FSA”) of the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) published an Electronic Announcement that delays the implementation date for the Annual Student Loan Acknowledgment. In a November 21, 2019 Electronic Announcement, the Department had previously notified schools about a change to the Master Promissory Note (MPN) confirmation process.
Pursuant to the new process, student and parent borrowers are required to view how much they currently owe in federal student loans, and to acknowledge that they have seen this amount before a school can make the first disbursement of the first Direct Loan that a student or parent borrower receives for each new award year.
The Annual Student Loan Acknowledgement process will continue to be available on StudentAid.gov. However, borrower completion of the Annual Student Loan Acknowledgement prior to disbursement will not be required for the 2021–22 Award Year.
At this time, all processing related to the Annual Student Loan Acknowledgement will continue under existing business rules. Schools will continue to receive information about a borrower’s completion of the Annual Student Loan Acknowledgement process on StudentAid.gov.
Please see the November 2019 Electronic Announcement for more information about the Annual Student Loan Acknowledgement process and the technical requirements.
On March 8, 2021, the Biden Administration published an Executive Order on “Guaranteeing an Educational Environment Free from Discrimination on the Basis of Sex, Including Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity.” In short, the EO requires the U.S. Department of Education to reassess how it directs college campuses to investigate sexual violence – specifically, the 2020 Title IX Rule, 85 FR 30026 – as well as other regulations related to Title IX. Continue reading “President Biden Issues Executive Order Directing U.S. Department of Education to Reassess Title IX Rules”
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”
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
Hiring season is fraught with questions and uncertainties; preparing employment applications; interviewing, drafting offer letters….. What questions can be asked? What questions should be asked? These concerns are even more pronounced when it comes to immigration status, and immigration sponsorship. Those tasked with the hiring process often ask, whether it is legal to ask applicants about their immigration status, how to ask that question, and even more important, “Do we have to sponsor for immigration status if the applicant needs it?” Continue reading “University Hiring Season is Here: Immigration Questions and Strategies”
On September 2, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) published a Final Rule, available at https://ifap.ed.gov/federal-registers/FR090220, on distance education and innovation. The regulations are effective July 1, 2021; however, institutions are permitted to voluntarily implement any or all provisions as of September 2, the date of publication of the final rule. The Department states that the rule is intended to “strike a balance” between fostering increased innovation in distance education offerings while protecting students and taxpayers.The rule makes the following regulatory changes:
• Allowing asynchronous delivery of some courses or portions of courses delivered as part of clock hour programs (this significant change was made in response to public comments on the proposed rule);
• Providing flexibility to distance education, competency-based education (CBE), and other types of educational programs that emphasize demonstration of learning rather than seat time when measuring student outcomes;
• Clarifying the distinction between distance education and correspondence courses and more clearly defining the requirements of “regular and substantive interaction” between students and faculty and the permissibility of engaging instructional teams in the delivery of education through distance learning;
• Clarifying the requirements for direct assessment programs, including how to determine equivalent credit hours and how to distribute aid to simplify administration, reduce confusion, and protect taxpayers;
• Limiting the requirement for institutions with strong track records to obtain approval from the Education Secretary for only the first direct assessment program offered by the school at a given credential level;
• Requiring institutions to report to the Education Secretary when adding a second or subsequent direct assessment program or establishing a written arrangement for an institution or organization that is not eligible to participate in the title IV, HEA program to provide more than 25 percent, but no more than 50 percent, of a program;
• Recognizing the value of “subscription-based programs,” and simplifying rules regarding the disbursement of title IV funding to students enrolled in these programs; and
• Requiring prompt action by the Department on applications by institutions to the Education Secretary seeking certification or recertification to participate as an eligible institution in the HEA, title IV program.
The rule also adds a definition of “juvenile justice facility” to ensure that students incarcerated in a juvenile justice facility continue their eligibility for Pell Grants.
Additional regulatory changes include:
• Encouraging employer participation in developing educational programs by clarifying that institutions may modify their curricula based on industry advisory board recommendations without relying on a traditional faculty-led decision-making process;
• Simplifying clock-to-credit hour conversions and clarifying that homework time included in the credit hour definition do not translate to clock hours, including for the purpose of determining whether a program meets the Department’s requirements regarding maximum program length;
• Encouraging institutions to give students equal credit for time spent preparing for and participating in lecture and laboratory courses;
• Clarifying that an institution may demonstrate for purposes of participating in title IV, HEA programs, a reasonable relationship between the length of a program if the number of clock hours does not exceed either 150 percent of the minimum requirement to work in the State in which the institution is located or 100 percent of the minimum hours in an adjacent State;
• Providing that the Education Secretary will rely on the accrediting agency or State authorizing agency to evaluate an institution’s appeal of a final audit or program review determination by the Department 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; and
• Encouraging closing institutions to offer quality teach-outs by permitting the application of sanctions to individuals or institutions affiliated with other institutions that closed without executing a viable teach-out plan or agreement.
The final rule culminated a rulemaking that began nearly two years ago, building on the Trump administration’s Rethink Higher Education agenda that “challenged past practices, assumptions, and expectations about what ‘college’ is, what it should do, and how it should operate.” It remains to be seen whether these regulations would be subject to amendment from a change in Secretary, but we view this set of rules as less controversial than others amended or rescinded by Secretary DeVos (such as Gainful Employment and Borrower Defense to Repayment) and not likely to be a priority for change by a new Administration. Institutions of higher education should familiarize themselves with these rule changes as they develop distance education programs.
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.