Major Updates 

  • Department of Ed Issues Final Rule on Distance Learning, “Regular and Substantive” and Competency-Based Education
    On August 24th, following the comprehensive 2018-2019 Negotiated Rulemaking session and the additional public comments from organizations such as UPCEA and its partners in the National Council for Online Education on the proposed regulations this past spring, the Department of Education has released final rules. These regulation changes include distance education, “regular and substantive” interaction, Competency-Based Education (CBE), direct assessment, and other topics. The proposed changes and response to comments are extensive, but we wish to highlight a few that we believe our UPCEA community would be interested in: 
    • Clarity on “regular” and “substantive” definitional aspects of “regular and substantive interaction” for distance education:
      • For “substantive” the action must engage students in teaching, learning, and assessment, as well as two of these five actions: providing direct instruction; assessing or providing feedback on a student’s course work; providing information or responding to questions about the content of a course or competency; facilitating a group discussion regarding the content of a course or competency; or other instructional activities approved by the institution’s or program’s accrediting agency.
      • For “regular” interaction, the original draft proposed language (“regular and predictable basis”) which UPCEA and others found problematic was changed to the final regulatory wording of “scheduled and predictable basis” to remove any confusion associated with  the term “regular.”  
      • Clarifies that requirements for regular and substantive interaction between instructors and students occur at the course or competency level 
  • Changing of “clock hour” definition to express that a clock hour includes a synchronous or asynchronous class, lecture, or recitation where there is an opportunity for direct interaction between instructors and students 
  • Clarification of Virtual/Augmented reality fulfilling expectations of “Academic Engagement” 
  • Providing more flexibility for a focus on learning, rather than seat time, in evaluating CBE and distance education 
  • Clarifying Distance Education and Correspondence Education
    • Defining more clearly the differences between what is correspondence education from distance education based on:
      “The institution’s online instruction is delivered through an appropriate form of media; The instructors with whom students regularly and substantively interact meet the requirements of the institution’s accrediting agency for instruction in the subject matter; Instructors engage in at least two forms of substantive interaction meeting the regulatory requirements for the course or competency; The institution has established scheduled and predictable opportunities for substantive interaction between students and instructors and create expectations for instructors to monitor each student’s engagement and substantively engage with students on the basis of that monitoring; and Instructors are responsive to students’ requests for instructional support.”


    • Providing flexibility for Direct Assessment programs 
      • An institution will only need to put its first direct assessment program in any degree level through Departmental approval 
  • Providing a structure for subscription-based models to interact with financial aid disbursement


These changes take effect July 1, 2021; however, the early implementation of any or all of the changes is allowed.


Click here to view the Department’s Fact Sheet on the changes.


Click here to view the full draft regulations.

  • Trump Issues Memorandum on Student Aid Relief Extension To End of Year
    As part of a response to the ongoing stalled talks on COVID-19 relief legislation from Congress, President Trump declared multiple executive actions. While many of these actions were seen by critics being on shaky ground from a legal perspective, the one memorandum which is not expected to see pushback is the one surrounding student aid relief. The Department of Education has already implemented the memorandum, and Federal Student Aid (FSA) has extended the student loan relief to borrowers initiated by the President and Secretary in March 2020 through December 31, 2020. All student loans that are federally held will have their payments automatically suspended until 2021 without penalty. In addition, there will be a 0% interest rate on these loans through the end of the calendar year. Some critics have called it “insufficient” while others are worried how the actions might quell congressional funding for colleges.

Other News

  • New Grant Opportunity from US Dept of Ed for Colleges Affected by COVID-19
    The U.S. Department of Education has recently announced a grant program to help colleges and universities “emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic more resilient and expand educational opportunities for students.” The deadline for notice of intent to apply is September 10, 2020, and the application date deadline is October 20, 2020. More information on the program is included below:

    “Priority for grant awards will be given to colleges and universities with the greatest unmet needs related to COVID-19. In addition, proposals will receive additional consideration if they:
  1. Provide Dual Enrollment Opportunities to Students Who Live or Attend School in a Rural Community or Opportunity Zone:
  2. Are led by, or include as partners, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges, minority serving institutions (MSIs), and/or developing institutions that are eligible to participate in Title III or Title V programs; and/or
  3. Are committed to developing more resilient instructional delivery models, such as distance learning, that make learning possible even when students cannot be physically present on campus for any reason.”

Learn more about these grant opportunities and apply

Deadline Time for New Federal Sexual Assault Policies (Inside Higher Ed)


  • Trump Administration Reverses Course on Denying Student Visas — Later Blocks New International Students if Coursework is Fully Online
    Guidance first released July 6 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) restricted visas if an international student’s coursework was fully online in the fall, and requested that institutions notify them by July 15 if this was going to be the case. Critics warned the move was shortsighted and would create confusion. Originally sued by MIT and Harvard, and many others in short order, the Administration reversed course and rescinded the rule. However, on July 24, ICE stated that new international students cannot come to the country to take online-only coursework.

    A few other issues remain prohibitive for international students, and some campuses are asking international students who have not returned to the U.S. to stay in their home country, and not come to campus, due to roadblocks caused by:

    • Regulatory burdens, based on guidance by ICE
    • State Department suspensions in visa processing 
    • Existing travel restrictions between countries due to the pandemic



  • Senator Alexander Releases COVID/Education Bills
    Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, introduced the The Student Loan Repayment and FAFSA Simplification Act July 21, and the Safely Back to School and Back to Work Act on Monday, July 27. The bills are a general framework for what Alexander and Republicans see as their opportunity to change the Higher Education Act this Congress, as well as support COVID relief for the healthcare and education industry. The bills include items like supporting simplification of student loan repayment options from the nine current repayment methods to two: a ten-year mortgage-style payment plan, and an income-based payment plan that limits payments to 10% of discretionary income. It also includes major supports for healthcare including COVID testing, vaccine production, and tweaks to CARES Act provisions. Other education provisions like supporting workforce and short-term training, and supporting scholarships to K-12 private schools, are included. Portions of the bill are seen as Senator Alexander’s hopes for what will be included in a bigger COVID relief package currently under consideration.





  • COVID 19 – CARES Act Funding + Reopening Policies
    The past few months have been confusing for institutions wishing to disburse COVID-19 emergency grant dollars due to the Department of Education changing allocation calculations and requirements, including eligibility for who can receive grants from the relief legislation. One of the main groups that . DACA, the program protecting children brought to the United States who do not have citizenship, was . Critics believe the action to deny these individuals the grant dollars .Amid this confusion, Senators from both sides of the aisle have said they would like additional funding for higher education to help support safe reopening policies and to address the losses caused by coronavirus. Earlier this month, a with university presidents and a public health expert providing testimony. Just this week, Senator Alexander (R-TN) has stated he would be open to spending additional dollars on schools to help them reopen.

  • Many Regulations Taking Effect July 1
    In the midst of everything else going on in higher ed policy (COVID funding, fall plans for reopening and new Title IX regulations, to name a few), there are a plethora of new regulatory requirements going into final effect July 1, including some major disclosure/information requirements. Here are a few of the most important to our community to review and be sure their institutions are up-to-date on:

    • Borrower Defense to Repayment (BDR) – As of Friday, , stopping previously passed bipartisan legislation intended to block the administration’s changes. So, the administration’s ruling will move forward and into effect July 1. Amid financial calculation changes, the rule requires internal dispute resolution and arbitration processes to be communicated as part of the student’s borrower entrance counseling.
    • Administrative Policy Disclosure – requires the publication of the institution’s: refund policy; contact info for filing complaints with the accreditor and state authorization agency; whether the institution is required to maintain a teach-out plan by its accreditor, and why; and notice of any enforcement actions or prosecutions brought against the institution, where a final judgment against the institution, if rendered, would result in adverse action by an accrediting agency, state authorization agency, or eligibility under Title IV.
    • Student Demographic + Outcomes Disclosures – requiring the publication of percentages for enrolled, full-time students at the institution who are male/female, Pell eligible, and self-identified as a member of a racial/ethnic group; placement rate, if the institution uses it in marketing or advertising, or if the state requires the institution to report it; retention rate of certificate or degree-seeking, first-time, full-time, undergraduates entering the institution.
    • State Authorization – student “location” vs “residence” switch goes live. For distance education, to determine the requirements for state authorization, the institution must know where the student is actually located when taking the course, and not just where they indicated their home address. This rule also implements a disclosure requirement for programs leading to licensure or certifications.
    • Gainful Employment (GE) – a rescission of the entire rule related to this topic, and any GE related activities should cease prior to July 1.
    • Accreditation and Innovation – greater flexibility and responsiveness for innovation will now be allowed under accreditation standards as well as oversight for accreditors over their institutions. Changes to competition through the historical regulation of location-based regional accreditors has been untethered.
    • Transfer of Credit Disclosure – institutions must publish their transfer of credit policy, articulating whether other institutions have established an articulation agreement with them, as well as any criteria used to evaluate prior learning experience and awarding credit for demonstrated competencies/learning.
    • Institutional Arrangement Disclosure – requires institutions to publish a description of any written arrangements that the institution has entered into which may include: a portion of the educational program that the institution which grants the degree or certificate is not providing; as well as estimated additional costs students may incur as a result of enrolling in an educational program that is provided under this arrangement.

Twenty-nine (29) higher education associations and organizations, including UPCEA, joined EDUCAUSE on June 5, 2020, in sending a letter to Congress on significant broadband issues for higher education. The groups asked Congress to consider the needs of economically distressed college students in relation to efforts to bridge the digital divide during COVID-19 pandemic, specifically citing the Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act as an important option for doing so. They also requested that Congress include proposals for strengthening the nation’s research and education (R&E) networks in potential broadband infrastructure funding, given the significant role that R&E networks play in providing advanced broadband access for community anchor institutions and the academic research community. Finally, the letter encouraged federal policymakers to further enable the efforts of colleges and universities to extend their networking and technological capabilities in response to the learning, research, and service demands driven by the pandemic.

Click here to read the full letter.


Other News

Stay engaged and informed! . For more information on UPCEA government affairs, contact Jordan DiMaggio ().

Today, UPCEA has submitted comments to the US Department of Education in response to their Notice of Public Rulemaking (NPRM) issued on April 2, 2020, which closes on May 4, 2020. These regulations were informed by the 2018-2019 negotiated rulemaking committee. We wrote regarding clarification and suggested edits for how the NPRM amends key definitions and title IV eligibility requirements for distance and correspondence education providers. UPCEA recognizes the importance of regulating distance education to protect students and the general public. We appreciate the efforts the Department has taken to protect these interests while still encouraging innovation in higher education and student access to affordable, high-quality educational opportunities. 

We generally support the proposed changes contained in this NPRM and believe they advance each of these goals. However, we do seek clarification on several new and amended definitions from the Department as outlined below. The following suggestions and requests for clarification have been submitted both by UPCEA member institutions and by UPCEA’s Policy Committee, and include concerns raised by online program administrators, instructional faculty, and instructional designers:


Click here to read our full comments and suggestions on these issues. 


Today UPCEA has sent a letter to Capitol Hill congressional leadership regarding the need for additional funding, waiver authority, and online student support in future funding calculations.

Once on the periphery of institutions of higher education, today our members are front and center as all postsecondary learning has rapidly shifted to a remote format. Over the next months and years the increased use of online education will serve a larger population of learners than could have been imagined even months ago. To this end, we asked for congressional support: in providing additional funding for these students and institutions; by recognizing and qualifying distance education students as part of any future disbursement calculations; and to provide broad waiver authority to the Secretary of Education for a temporary period of time. 

American higher education is confronted with unprecedented challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some recent estimates of the loss carried by institutions amounts to $46.6 billion. Emergency grants to students totaling $23.3 billion will enable them to begin or continue their college educations. As you know, the CARES Act provided only $14 billion to higher education, and based on these estimates, a significantly higher amount of funding is required to meet the needs of these students and institutions, and the communities they live in. 

However, we requested that for future funding, the calculation of funds disbursement be adjusted to include distance education students. While this was explicitly not the case in the CARES Act summation, taking into account the large portion of students and institutions who participate in full-time distance education programs will bring needed support during these unprecedented times. Online educators and administrators are taking part in helping minimize academic disruption across the nation, and their units and institutions are key in upholding and expanding the access to education in these times of social distancing. Over the next several weeks, we anticipate there will be increased conversations about the effectiveness of online education, the role online education can and should play in continuity planning, how to effectively transition face-to-face courses online during a crisis, and how to best support both faculty and learners who might unexpectedly need to navigate online learning spaces. These are all critical conversations, and these discussions will underscore the need for current online students and institutions to be supported equally in these funding allocations. 

We also asked for further waiver authority for higher education institutions from the Secretary during a limited timeframe. While we saw limited waiver authority granted to the Secretary for certain institutions and provisions related to higher education in the CARES Act, we believe more is needed. Institutions face numerous deadlines, existing requirements, and regulations which many institutions will struggle to meet as we move through this crisis and its fallout. Institutions of higher education should be granted streamlined waivers in regards to these matters, similar to K-12 institutions. We feel it is necessary to provide this authority only during the timeframe in which disaster relief is needed for institutions and students affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

Click here to read the full letter.

Major Updates

    • Governors and states will be provided with $3B of this fund to specifically use as they see fit to further K-12 or postsecondary education. These funds will be distributed to states to make their own judgement on what is most important for educational needs in their respective states.


  • Federal Work Study, Financial Aid, suspension of certain loan payments and other impacts. Other major provisions include allowing an institution to provide existing Federal Work Study dollars to a student who is unable to work due to workplace closures; allows for deferment of federal student loan payments, principal, or interest for six months; does not require an institution to return Title IV funds if a student leaves school early due to COVID-19, and also does not impact the student’s satisfactory progress or lifetime eligibility calculation for Pell Grants for a limited time.


  • A waiver authority originally included in draft language, allowing for the Secretary of Education to waive certain regulations or deadlines, did not make it into the final bill. Meaning absent new legislation, statutory and regulatory deadlines will go unchanged. We are hoping that this authority is granted in a future bill.


  • SBA Paycheck Protection Program + Treasury Loan Program – One of the major portions of the bill which is not directly related to higher education but may be accessible to institutions is the Small Business Administration fund for loans to organizations with less than 500 employees, which will be “fully forgiven if the funds are used for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities”. The program has been so popular, the next relief package may be dedicated to allocating another $250 million dedicated to this initiative. See more details on the Paycheck Protection Program here. The CARES Act also provides $500 billion via the Treasury for loans to eligible organizations with between 500 and 10,0000 employees. The program will not charge interest rates on the loans higher than two percent per year, and payments will only be due six months after receiving the loan. See more details on the Treasury’s loan program here.


  • Proposed Regulations Released from US Department of Education on CBE, RSI, Credit Hour and more; Comments due May 4th
    Proposed regulations stemming from the 2018-2019 negotiated rulemaking sessions where consensus was reached, have been released. This is the third release in what is expected to be four total, and addresses important topics such as: 

    • definition of a correspondence student (one who takes over 50% correspondence courses) and how that calculates into an institution’s ability to receive Title IV funds; 
    • amending the definition of “distance education” to better reflect modern technologies; 
    • providing specificity and structure around “regular and substantive interaction” by defining integral pieces and providing clarity on what the terms “regular,” “substantive,” and “instructor” mean); 
    • competency-based education; 
    • the definition of a credit hour becomes more lenient; 
    • federal loan disbursement for subscription based models; 
    • clarify and simplify the requirements for direct assessment programs, including how to determine equivalent credit hours


The Department released these regulations and said the Covid-19 crisis underscored and accelerated the need for these proposed rules to move forward to help institutions better connect with students, though some critics feel the Department had already waited too long and that the proposed changes were overdue.

The regulations are dense, the period to comment is limited, and your input is important. As always, we encourage our members to comment, through your institution, by coordinating with your President’s and government affairs office, and/or on your own private time as a concerned citizen. These public policies will be created after review of all of the comments gathered over the next month. The final rule will be released by the department following this comment period later this year, and will go into effect July 1, 2021. The public comment period deadline is May 4. Click here to comment on these regulations. 

Read the full press release from the Department of Education

Click here to view the full set of proposed regulations

  • Further Updated US ED Guidance on COVID-19 Interruptions.
    The Department of Education has followed up with more specifics in regards to its March 5th guidance for institutions regarding interrupted studies due to Covid-19. The guidance specifies the period in time in which the guidelines apply (until June 30, 2020), except as otherwise stated in the document. Regarding the broad approval for online and distance education programs: “the Department provides broad approval to institutions to use distance learning modalities without going through the standard Department approval process, even if the institution would normally be required to seek Departmental approval for the use or expansion of distance learning programs. At this time, this flexibility applies only to payment periods that overlap with the Department’s March 5, 2020, guidance or that begin on or between March 5 and June 1, 2020. If an institution chooses to continue offering a new program or using distance education in a manner requiring the Department’s approval after that point, it may be required to obtain approval under the Department’s and its accrediting agency’s applicable policies and procedures.”

We recommend that all institutions document any and all actions taken in regards to these measures, or any other changes occurring due to Covid-19 disruption, as they will be helpful upon accreditation or Departmental review. If you have questions about this guidance, the Department has created an email address which you can use to get a response –

Click here to read the full letter.  


Further Reading

Much congressional action has been taken since the COVID-19 crisis began. A bill that provides tax relief for businesses to support paid sick leave and free coronavirus testing; one authorizing $8.3 billion to help government agencies respond to the virus; and a bill protecting GI Bill housing benefits for online veteran students, are all now public law. At this moment, discussion is ongoing on the major stimulus package, the biggest piece of legislation yet to address the issue, or any American crisis, ever. The GOP bill first offered did not pass due to discrepancies with Democrats about the size and specifics. Bipartisan talks continue between House and Senate leadership along with the White House in hopes of a quick passage of a monumental stimulus.

Higher education is a major piece of the puzzle being negotiated, and it is a small example of the bigger argument over why the stimulus bill’s progress has been hindered. Republicans aren’t going far enough, critics say, and are putting too much emphasis on banks and corporations. They have provided funding short of what leaders of the higher education community say is necessary for adequate relief and dollars for students and institutions. Democrats are trying to enact their own legislative goals, with efforts like $10,000 per person in federal student debt forgiveness and including non-specific COVID-19 tax relief for renewable energy, and are unfairly using it as leverage to pass their version of the bill, their critics have argued. What everyone agrees on is that the uncertainty, damage, and present loss of funding is real, and warrants a major response. How to be prescient about what comes next and how to best serve those hardest hit while helping to prop up the economy is where the challenge lies.

Legislative and regulatory changes have already occurred due to this crisis, and institutions and their interaction with the government over the next year will be important. Below, we are highlighting some major news items and actions that the U.S. Department of Education has taken, . We also highlight letters and responses to other policy actions occurring over the past few weeks that UPCEA has advocated for.

Major Updates

Resources and Letters from UPCEA

  • UPCEA Requests Congressional Action on COVID-19 Supports for Students and Institutions
    • UPCEA joins ACE and 80 organizations to ask Congress for: Emergency Aid to Students and Support for Institutions; Access to Low-Cost Capital; Technology Implementation Fund; and Temporary Flexibility
    • UPCEA joins 50 organizations to help students during COVID-19 crisis. We asked congress to: allow for direct emergency funds to cover basic needs; allow for flexibility with the Pell Grant Lifetime Eligibility Usage; and ensure no penalty to a student’s Satisfactory Academic Progress status. 
  • UPCEA Supports GI Housing Benefits for Online Students – UPCEA along with other associations supported S. 3503 which has now been signed into public law.
  •  – curated website of information and resources for higher ed professionals regarding COVID-19 and emergency online delivery and instruction. 

Stay engaged and informed! . For more information on UPCEA government affairs, contact Jordan DiMaggio ().

UPCEA joined with ACE and dozens of other organizations to write congressional leadership to outline the ways in which we believe the federal government can assist students, educators and institutions in recovering from the impact of COVID-19.

Colleges and universities are uniquely vulnerable to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as our educational and research missions necessitate regular interactions in lecture halls, classrooms, dormitories, theaters, and stadiums. Like every segment of our society, higher education institutions have struggled to balance multiple concerns while prioritizing the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff.

The impact has been profound. While closing campuses or moving entirely to remote instruction have been necessary steps in slowing the spread of the virus among students and staff, these shifts have caused massive disruption to students, institutional operations, and institutional finances.

This reverberates far beyond our campuses. Colleges and universities are the largest employers in many areas, and serve as economic, civic, and cultural hubs for their communities. Students and staff patronize and support innumerable local businesses, and the scientific research and development performed on campuses across the country drive our national economy and enhance our global competitiveness. At this moment, the only knowable financial impact of the novel coronavirus on college and universities at this time is that it will be substantial. Already, Moody’s has downgraded the higher education sector from stable to negative, explaining that “universities face unprecedented enrollment uncertainty, risks to multiple revenue streams, and potential material erosion in their balance sheets.” Students and their families rightfully expect to receive the services they’ve paid for. Partial refunding of tuition and fees by schools that have closed, and partial refunding of other charges—on-campus housing and meal plans, for example—for those who have moved their instructional programs wholly online is ongoing. Some schools have kept campus housing operational for students that did not have anywhere to go, which also carries financial implications. But these actions will concurrently constrain the near-term cash flows that undergird institutions’ day-to-day operations. Unlike for-profit businesses, non-profits and public institutions cannot make up these losses from future revenues.

Beyond these functional demands, institutions are tasked in new ways to help their students and preserve their campuses. Just a few examples of these new efforts include: the deep cleaning of campus buildings; providing shelter for foster, homeless, and international students; providing transportation to send students home; packaging and shipping personal belongings students had to leave behind; moving to remote food delivery; canceling uninsured events with caterers, venues, etc., and many more.

In order to remedy the damage COVID-19 has caused to students and schools, we believe the federal government should move quickly to implement four key efforts to address the challenges students and campuses are facing, and alleviate the harm they’ve already
experienced. These initiatives are:

  • Emergency Aid to Students and Support for Institutions
  • Access to Low-Cost Capital
  • Technology Implementation Fund
  • Temporary Flexibility 

Click here to read the full letter to Senate leadership
Click here to read the full letter to House leadership.