AskRegs Update: Must it be a Title IV-Approved Leave of Absence to Qualify Under the COVID-19 Guidance?

Must It Be a Title IV-Approved Leave Of Absence To Qualify Under the COVID-19 Guidance?

This AskRegs Q&A has been updated to reflect additional guidance provided in the May 15, 2020 Electronic Announcement.

Yes, but there are some exceptions to the regulatory definition. The March 5, 2020 Electronic Announcement guidance regarding a leave of absence (LOA) only applies to Title IV-approved leaves of absence defined in 34 CFR 668.22(d). If your school does not have a Title IV-approved LOA, the student is a withdrawal if the school closes and/or does not move classes online, or if the school closes and reopens and the student later withdraws during the same payment period or period of enrollment.

Under 668.22(d), "A leave of absence is an approved leave of absence if—

(i) The institution has a formal policy regarding leaves of absence;
(ii) The student followed the institution's policy in requesting the leave of absence;
(iii) The institution determines that there is a reasonable expectation that the student will return to the school;
(iv) The institution approved the student's request in accordance with the institution's policy;
(v) The leave of absence does not involve additional charges by the institution;
(vi) The number of days in the approved leave of absence, when added to the number of days in all other approved leaves of absence, does not exceed 180 days in any 12-month period;
(vii) Except for a clock hour or nonterm credit hour program, upon the student's return from the leave of absence, the student is permitted to complete the coursework he or she began prior to the leave of absence; and
(viii) If the student is a title IV, HEA program loan recipient, the institution explains to the student, prior to granting the leave of absence, the effects that the student's failure to return from a leave of absence may have on the student's loan repayment terms, including the exhaustion of some or all of the student's grace period."

Per the March 5, 2020 Electronic Announcement, "The Department will permit students who wish to take an approved leave of absence for COVID-19-related concerns or limitations (such as interruption of a travel-abroad program), to take such leave, even if the student notifies the institution in writing after the approved leave of absence has begun. In such a case, the institution may retain those Title IV funds to apply when the student continues enrollment. If the student does not return to complete their program within 180 days, the school would then be expected to perform the Return of Title IV funds calculation based on the date on which the leave-of-absence began. Note that in term-based programs, if a student takes an approved leave of absence from a term-based program, the institution must ensure that the student is permitted to complete the coursework he or she began prior to the leave of absence."

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act loosens the requirement under (vii) above, stating, "[A]n institution of higher education may, as a result of a qualifying emergency, provide a student with an approved leave of absence that does not require the student to return at the same point in the academic program that the student began the leave of absence if the student returns within the same semester (or the equivalent)."

The May 15th Electronic Announcement affirms the guidance above, and provides several additional clarifications:

  • Schools that did not previously have a formal written policy regarding Title IV-approved LOAs may adopt one, even on a temporary basis. A school's written policy must require all requests for LOAs to be submitted in writing and to include the reason for the request.
  • The tuition and fees component of the cost of attendance (COA) for a subsequent period in which the student returns from an approved LOA cannot include the tuition costs for coursework the student was taking when the LOA began. However, the COA for the period in which the student returns may include living expenses even if the student enrolls in no additional credits.
  • Credits associated with the coursework a student is completing upon returning from the approved LOA may count toward that student's enrollment status.

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Publication Date: 3/19/2020

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