Tag Archives: U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Department of Education Final Rule on Distance Education and Innovation: What You Need to Know

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.

Active Ransomware Campaign Targeting Education Institutions

By Michelle Hon Donovan

The Department of Education issued a security alert stating that multiple schools have reported that they have suffered ransomware attacks. Ransomware is a type of malware that uses encryption to block access to a computer system unless a ransom is paid. Ransomware is commonly embedded in email attachments that infect a computer when opened. However, the Department of Education states that phishing attacks have been the primary method used in these reported cases, where the attackers used phishing schemes to gain access to account credentials and then used those credentials to install the ransomware.

The Department of Education recommends that schools implement the following cybersecurity practices to protect against such attacks:

  • Establish a data backup process, ensure the backups are available and accessible, and store the backups offline
  • Implement multi-factor authentication to mitigate account compromises
  • Regularly patch hardware and software
  • Continuously monitor institutional network to detect unauthorized access and malware
  • Create and update your Incident Response Plan
  • Ensure training resources emphasize phishing, as it is frequently the compromising entry point for cyber attacks

The Department also reminds schools that ransomware attacks should be reported immediately to the FSA security team.

Ninth Circuit Rules that California Private Postsecondary Education Act Burdens Free Speech

by John M. Simpson.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently held that a postsecondary education plaintiff stated a claim that his rights under the First Amendment had been violated by the California Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009 (PPEA), Cal. Educ. Code § 94800 et seq.  Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School, Inc. v. Kirchmeyer, ___ F.3d ___, No. 18-15840 (9th Cir. June 10, 2020).  The case was remanded for further proceedings in the district court. Continue reading Ninth Circuit Rules that California Private Postsecondary Education Act Burdens Free Speech

Education Institutions Prepare for Department’s Final Rule on State Authorizations, Consumer Disclosures

On November 1, 2019, the U.S. Department of Education published a final rule regarding state authorization. The new rule is effective July 1, 2020. This Alert highlights required changes for state authorization and consumer disclosures, some of which apply to institutions offering on-ground programs.

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

Department of Education Publishes Title IX Final Rule

On May 19, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education issued its final rule on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 regulations. These are the first comprehensive regulations issued under Title IX since 1975. The final rule, which applies to school districts, colleges and universities, including all institutions of higher education receiving Title IV funding, contains a number of significant changes, such as: a definition for sexual harassment, publication of Title IX materials, triggers for an institution’s legal obligation to respond and investigate, and a requirement that institutions conduct courtroomlike hearings.

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

Cybersecurity Update: Protecting Student Data Critical to Continued Participation in the Federal Student Aid Programs

On February 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) issued an electronic announcement regarding the enforcement of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act’s (GLBA) cybersecurity requirements for all institutions of higher education participating in the Title IV, Higher Education Act (HEA) federal student financial aid programs and their third-party servicers. The announcement states that auditors are expected to evaluate three GLBA information safeguard requirements in annual compliance audits of postsecondary institutions and third-party servicers. Any finding of noncompliance will be sent to both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the FSA’s cybersecurity team for further investigation and potential adverse action. All Title IV participating institutions should consult with counsel about the very serious consequences and administrative actions that may be taken if they or their third-party servicers fail to meet the GLBA’s information security requirements.

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