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 – COVID-19@ed.gov

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.

UPCEA, along with ACE, and almost 50 other organizations wrote a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy asking the House to approve a bill ensuring veterans continue to receive their GI bill benefits when campuses move courses online due to COVID-19. S. 3503 would grant the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) the authority to continue to provide education benefits for veterans when approved programs of education at colleges and universities are moved online due to an emergency or health-related situation. This authority would be available immediately and would extend through December 21, 2020.

In light of Coronavirus challenges, many campuses are working quickly to stand up online classroom instruction as a way to protect students and campus communities and limit contagion. However, moving programs of education online has the potential to significantly and negatively impact the ability of veterans to receive GI bill benefits. As just one example, under current Post-9/11 GI Bill rules, student veterans taking courses online typically receive only half the housing allowance of their on-campus peers. Because most veteran students and their families have already made housing arrangements, including signing leases for the current semester or term, a drastic cut in their living expenses would be a considerable hardship during these already difficult times. We strongly support efforts to ensure that veterans’ educational benefits are not impacted by campus efforts to move coursework online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that the uncertainty as to when and how these issues will be addressed is particularly hard on our military connected students. Therefore, we call on passage of the bipartisan Senate legislation. We stand ready to work with you and the VA to address other issues impacting military-connected students during these unprecedented times.

Click here to read the full letter.

UPCEA joined with Higher Learning Advocates with a total of 51 organizations to write to congressional leadership to help support students’ needs. As new cases of COVID-19 exposure and infection arise every day, many of the nation’s institutions of higher education are suspending or moving classes online to do what’s best for the public health and to flatten the curve of the virus’s spread. However, these sudden campus closures—whether they are fully closing a campus or moving all classes to virtual and restricting campus access to respond to the real health issues we are facing—are having a secondary negative impact on many of today’s students. Reports of vulnerable students who may be reliant on their campus for more than just a place to attend lectures are highlighting just how critical access to a dining hall, food pantry, or other accessible food sources; work-study wages; or reliably safe and stable campus housing can be.

Now, more than ever, today’s students need federal policy that reflects the lives they actually live. Almost one-quarter of students is a parent who may rely on their college’s on-campus child care center or other community partners, both of which are likely to be impacted. And, eighty-one percent of part-time students are employed and potentially contributing chunks of their paychecks to their family’s budget back home. In the face of this emergency, these realities become even more pressing, and more urgent to center in any immediate or future policymaking.

Democrats and Republicans have been swift and thoughtful in their response thus far, and must continue to show consideration of the many challenges that will be facing our country and our students. We also are aware of the current flexibility provided to federal agencies to address the needs of today’s students. However, the current responses and existing flexibility do not address all of the problems that we will see in the coming weeks and months. To respond to these present and future challenges we urge Congress to include the following proposals in the final COVID-19 package:

  • Allow for direct emergency funds to cover basic needs. Many students struggled to cover costs for food, housing, transportation, and child care, even before the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent campus closures. Congress should consider ways to support students through emergency aid, such as allowing institutions to directly provide resources to students.
  • Allow for flexibility with the Pell Grant Lifetime Eligibility Usage. Students and administrators have little clarity on how suspension of classes will affect the number of semesters they are eligible to receive a Pell Grant. Congress should make clear that usage of Pell in any semester where a student is impacted by COVID-19 should not count toward a student’s lifetime limits.
  • Ensure no penalty to a student’s Satisfactory Academic Progress status. Students’ class and instruction time will likely dip over the next few weeks or months. Congress should consider allowing for flexibility in students’ ability to access Title IV if they dip below satisfactory academic progress requirements.

Today’s students have always needed a system that is flexible, affordable and responsive to their needs. In the face of this pandemic, we urge Congress to move swiftly in a bipartisan manner to do what’s best for today’s students and the public health at large.

 

Click here to read the full letter

Welcome to the February edition of Policy Matters. Each issue has the latest updates and actionable items in public policy for adult and nontraditional education stakeholders.

Major Update


  • Earlier this month, the . The efforts specifically relating to education were positioned by the Administration as a way to reduce the “outsized” Federal role in education, and “return control over decisions to states, teachers, parents, and students.” While the request increases funding for Career and Technical Education programs by $900 million, the overall cuts of approximately 8% to the Department of Education’s budget allocations amounts to a total decrease of $5.6 billion in funding and outlays. One of the programs which was removed completely was the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, and financial aid programs, and on the whole, these and other proposed cuts . Many believe, as has been the case with past presidential budget requests, that this effort is largely dead in the water and will not go far. Congress recently passed measures to increase funding to education programs by $1.3 billion, including supporting increased maximum allowance for Pell Grants, which shows a trend of additional spending on education through bipartisan bills which have passed.

Other Reads

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

Welcome to the January edition of Policy Matters. Each issue has the latest updates and actionable items in public policy for adult and nontraditional education stakeholders.

Major Update


  • Legislators voted to approve a Congressional Review Act resolution to block the recent Department of Education rules tweaking “borrower defense to repayment” (BDR) regulation. BDR was created to protect students from paying back loans when colleges have defrauded them. Along with a handful of Republicans, all House Democrats voted to overturn Secretary DeVos’ recent changes to the Obama administration rule. Legislators have argued these changes make it much harder for students who seek legitimate loan forgiveness based on misconduct of institutions. DeVos and the current administration have argued it was too easy for students to make claims under the Obama administration rule. The resolution now moves to the Senate, where there is pressure to bring it to a vote in the coming weeks.

    As of last year, there were more than 210,000 BDR claims waiting to be processed, according to the Department. And according to recent court filings, the Department has continued to collect loan payments from 29,000 of these students. In recent weeks,  for these acts.

Other Reads

We’d like your input! Like this format? . For more information on UPCEA government affairs, contact Jordan DiMaggio ().

Follow Policy Matters for conversation about ongoing public policy efforts, to stay abreast of major news stories, and to contribute your insights on the policy space. We hope this newsletter makes you better informed on public policies that may impact your institution, students, and the broader higher education community. 

Welcome to the December edition of Policy Matters. Each issue has the latest updates and actionable items in public policy for adult and nontraditional education stakeholders. .

Major Update

Other Reads

We’d like your input! Like this format? . For more information on UPCEA government affairs, contact Jordan DiMaggio ().

Follow Policy Matters for conversation about ongoing public policy efforts, to stay abreast of major news stories, and to contribute your insights on the policy space. We hope this newsletter makes you better informed on public policies that may impact your institution, students, and the broader higher education community.