Upcoming Neg Reg Will Address Changes to the Return of Title IV Funds, State Authorization, Credit Hour

By Joelle Fredman, NASFAA Staff Reporter & Megan Walter, Policy & Federal Relations Staff

A series of subcommittee meetings—part of the Department of Education’s (ED) negotiated rulemaking process, or “neg reg”—will kick off next week to address a host of higher education regulations, touching on topics such as the return of Title IV funds, state authorization of distance education programs, and the definition of the credit hour, among other policies.

The sessions addressing these topics—which are not open to the public but will be livestreamed—will take place January 17-18, February 12-13, and conclude March 11-12. Another group of subcommittee sessions on the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant program will also take place at the same time.

During these meetings, ED and subcommittee members will develop and recommend proposed rules for consideration by the larger negotiated rulemaking committee. The committee negotiates proposed rules with the goal of reaching consensus. ED will publish the proposed rule in the Federal Register as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and solicit public comments, which will be evaluated for inclusion in the final rule. Stay tuned to Today’s News next week for coverage of the discussion.

In a departure from past negotiations, in which the first session has generally been a brainstorming and listening session, ED has already released its proposed draft regulatory language for these regulations.   

ED proposed significant changes to the ways schools process the return of Title IV funds by adding policies that would protect students in certain situations from being considered withdrawn. In the case of students in standard-term programs, for example, ED proposed that if they completed the course requirements for graduation before they were scheduled to have completed those requirements, they should not be considered withdrawn if their class attendance ceases before the scheduled end of the course(s). Similarly, ED proposed that students enrolled in module courses that have a number of days equal to or greater than half of the days in the payment period, and who have completed the coursework for a course, should also not be considered withdrawn if their attendance ceases.

For non-term programs, ED proposed to put protections in place for students that allow them to be considered non-withdrawn by providing the institutions with written confirmation of their date of intent to resume attendance, assuming that date is no more than 60 calendar days in the future.

ED also proposed in its draft language striking the definition of the state authorization reciprocity agreement (SARA), which is an agreement among member states and districts to establish and adhere to comparable standards for distance education courses, that was established in 2016, and wrote that it was interested in revisiting a definition in this upcoming neg reg session. ED published final rules related to state authorization of distance education in December 2016, which were set to go into effect July 1, 2018. The May announcement in which ED hinted that it would be rewriting this slew of higher education regulations, however, officially delayed the effective date for two years.

Additionally, ED proposed to strike the current definition of the “credit hour,” and instead allow institutions and accrediting agencies to determine it on their own. Effective since July 2011, ED defined the credit hour as "an amount of work represented in intended learning outcomes and verified by evidence of student achievement that is an institutionally established equivalency that reasonably approximates not less than –

(1) One hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out of class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester or trimester hour of credit, or ten to twelve weeks for one quarter hour of credit, or the equivalent amount of work over a different amount of time; or

(2) At least an equivalent amount of work as required in paragraph (1) of this definition for other academic activities as established by the institution including laboratory work, internships, practica, studio work, and other academic work leading to the award of credit hours."

NASFAA joined 22 higher education groups in 2012 in sending a letter to lawmakers asking them to repeal this definition, calling it ambiguous and problematic with regard to campus-based decisions on curriculum at the institutional level. ED wrote in the draft language that it would seek input from negotiators during the sessions on how to “create standards or guidelines that ensure quality, protect taxpayers, and do not limit innovation.”

Also included in the proposed language is ED’s intention to remove the regulations that previously restricted otherwise qualified members of religious orders from receiving funds from the following programs: Federal Work-Study (FWS), Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) program, Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program, Direct Loan program, and Pell Grant program. ED also proposed to allow otherwise qualifying work that involves religious instruction, worship service, and proselytizing to qualify as eligible employment for a borrower applying for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.  

Finally, with regard to satisfactory academic progress (SAP) requirements, ED proposed to allow institutions to establish a program’s maximum time frame in credit hours or in calendar time, whereas now it is only permitted to be done in credit hours. According to ED, this change “retains a reasonable limit on the amount of time students may take to complete an educational credential while acknowledging the varied ways in which credit-hour programs are now structured.”

In addition to these subcommittee meetings—which will address a number of other topics not included in this article as well—the three-day, public neg reg session on accreditation will begin Monday. Stay tuned to Today’s News for coverage of what will be discussed.


Publication Date: 1/11/2019

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