U.S. Department of Education Federal Update With Remarks From Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell, 3:45 - 5:00 pm

By Allie Bidwell, Communications Staff

During the Federal Update session at NASFAA’s 2016 National Conference in Washington, DC, Education Under Secretary Ted Mitchell thanked the thousands of financial aid professionals gathered for the work they do each day, and detailed the work the Department of Education (ED) is continuing to do to improve college access and affordability.

“It is through your hard work that the dreams and aspirations of individuals become realities,” Mitchell said. “There is so much at stake and our shared efforts as as higher education system are essential to secure a brighter future for our students and our country.”

Mitchell said that as the Obama administration enters its final 191 days, he hopes to see the results of ED’s engagement and partnership with financial aid professionals.

“Together, we are working on many fronts to improve postsecondary education,” Mitchell said. “And we know we have no better partners in this work than you.”

Among the initiatives Mitchell highlighted during the update were the Early FAFSA and the use of prior-prior year (PPY) income data.

“We believe that these changes coupled with the things like the new College Scorecard … will have a meaningful impact on college choice, access, and college success,” he said. “But for that potential to be realized, we need your help.”

Mitchell also described the draft borrower defense regulations ED released for public comment last month, its new Student Aid Enforcement Unit, guidance and changes to the FAFSA to help increase financial aid access for homeless students, and a planned upgrade and redesign of student loan entrance counseling tools.

He added that ED is considering a NASFAA proposal that would allow colleges to require additional loan counseling as a condition for receiving student loans.

“We’re keen to understand not only whether required loan counseling works, but what kind is most effective,” Mitchell said.

The Department would explore the idea through the use of experimental sites – a subset of schools would test the idea on the ground.

Following Mitchell’s address, ED’s Jeff Appel, Lynn Mahaffie, and Jeff Baker detailed several initiatives underway within the Department, forthcoming guidance and regulations, and reminders on regulations that have recently gone into effect. The topics covered included:

  • State Authorization of Distance Education: The issue was tabled in 2014 after a negotiated rulemaking committee was unable to reach consensus on the package of regulations in which it was included. According to Mahaffie, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is currently reviewing a proposal and ED expects a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to be issued in the near future.
  • Teacher Prep: ED is reviewing the comments it received regarding proposed teacher prep regulations and is working on producing final regulations for that issue.
  • Accreditation Policy: Mahaffie said ED's goal is to use executive action to increase the transparency of the accreditation process while focusing more on student outcomes. She noted that the Department would like to have a "rigorous" process by which to determine whether an accrediting agency is effective.
  • Homeless Youth: Clarifying institutional and applicants’ roles and responsibilities related to dependency determinations for unaccompanied homeless youth (DCL GEN-15-16). Beginning with the 2018-19 FAFSA, ED will remove the definition of “youth” from the paper application, and make changes to the way FAFSA on the Web (FOTW) handles 22- and 23-year olds who indicate they are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
  • Early FAFSA and PPY: Changes to the FAFSA process for 2017-18, with the use of PPY. In terms of outreach, ED has posted a toolkit to IFAP. Baker added that a Dear Colleague Letter on PPY and conflicting information is expected to be posted to IFAP next week. Students filling out the FAFSA online would receive a warning if the income and tax information they reported for 2017-18 differed from the information they reported for 2016-17, as both would be based on 2015 tax data.
  • Professional Judgment: Baker mentioned that with the use of PPY and Early FAFSA, it’s expected that there will be more requests for Professional Judgment (PJ), and therefore, more PJ cases. Baker also addressed the “urban myth” that ED has a “quota or a limit or percentage” threshold for PJ cases that would trigger a program review. “That is a myth – mostly,” he said, adding that professional judgment use is a factor in a “very sophisticated and complex analysis.”
  • Gainful Employment: Baker reminded attendees that the gainful employment regulations are now law, and that data for the 2015-16 award year is due by October 1.

Appel highlighted many success the Obama administration has had in higher education policy over the years, such as increasing awareness of income-based repayment options. However, there are some challenges that still remain, he said, including:

  • Addressing increasing tuition rates at colleges and universities across the country;
  • The rising average amount of debt students and families are taking on to pay for college;
  • Difficulties in keeping the Pell Grant maximum in pace with the rising cost of college; and
  • Low levels of completion among low-income students, particularly completion of bachelor's degrees, when compared to students from higher income levels.

 

Publication Date: 7/12/2016

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