AskRegs Update: Can a Foreign School Provide Online Classes When a Study Abroad Program Is Disrupted by Cororavirus?

Can a Foreign School Provide Online Classes When a Study Abroad Program Is Disrupted by Cororavirus?

It depends. According to guidance NASFAA has received from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), it depends on whether the U.S. institution has entered into a consortium or contractual agreement (written agreement) with the foreign school to provide the study abroad program to U.S. students, or whether the foreign school is a Title IV-eligible institution providing the online instruction to its own U.S. students.

The March 5, 2020 Electronic Announcement, "Guidance for interruptions of study related to Coronavirus (COVID-19)," allows exceptions for students whose study abroad experiences are disrupted by the Coronavirus. Under the guidance, schools are allowed to provide online classes for students to complete the "payment period that overlaps the date of this electronic announcement or the following payment period." According to the COVID-19 FAQs document attached to ED's March 5, 2020 Electronic Announcement, ED has extended that guidance to include students who enroll in any future payment periods that begin on or before June 1, 2020. If the student's study abroad program is disrupted for one of these payment periods, and the school allows the student to complete the payment period remotely via online classes, this guidance applies.

In the case that a U.S. institution has entered into a written agreement for the foreign school to provide the study abroad program to students who are enrolled as regular students at the U.S. institution: If the U.S. institution has entered into a written agreement with the foreign school to provide the study abroad program to students who are enrolled a regular students at the U.S. institution, and the foreign school converts students from residential classes to online/distance education classes for the payment period, the student remains eligible for Title IV funds. The student is not a withdrawal and a return of Title IV funds (R2T4) calculation is not required. This applies even when the foreign institution is a Title IV-eligible foreign school that is providing online classes under a written agreement to regular students enrolled at a U.S. institution.

For example, John is enrolled as a regular student and receiving Title IV aid from Tiger University, a Title IV-eligible U.S. institution. Tiger University has a written agreement with Pisa College in Italy, allowing John to complete a study abroad program through Pisa College. When John is recalled to the U.S because of COVID-19, Pisa College can switch John from residential classes to online classes provided by Pisa College and allow him to finish his courses via distance education from his U.S. location. In this scenario, John retains his Title IV aid for the payment period and is not a withdrawal. In this scenario, it does not matter whether Pisa College is a Title IV-eligible foreign school.

In the case that a foreign school is a Title IV-eligible institution providing the online instruction to U.S. students who are enrolled directly in the foreign school (not as study abroad students from a U.S. school that has a written agreement with the foreign school): Under Section 481(b) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA; US Code 1088(b)), as amended. a Title IV-eligible foreign school is prohibited from offering distance education to its own U.S. students who are enrolled as regular students at the foreign school.

In this example, Tonya is a U.S. citizen and regular student at Pasta University in Italy. Pasta University is a Title IV-eligible foreign school administering Title IV aid to Tonya. When Pasta University suspends residential classes because of COVID-19, Tonya cannot complete her courses online through Pasta University. If Tonya is does not go on a Title IV-approved leave of absence (LOA) under 34 CFR 668.22(d), she is a withdrawal and an R2T4 calculation must be performed. Refer to the March 5, 2020 Electronic Announcement for more information related to withdrawals and R2T4.

Under 34 CFR 600.2, a regular student is "A person who is enrolled or accepted for enrollment at an institution for the purpose of obtaining a degree, certificate, or other recognized educational credential offered by that institution."

Reference the COVID-19 FAQs document attached to ED's March 5, 2020 Electronic Announcement.

Please Note: The above guidance does not apply when the student never began attendance in the study abroad program. The R2T4 regulations in 668.22 do not apply if the study abroad experience was disruptedbefore the student began classes for the payment period or period of enrollment. When the student fails to begin any classes for the payment period or period of enrollment, 668.21 applies. In this scenario, all Title IV grant funds must be returned to the Title IV program by the school and the student (as applicable). All Direct Loan funds that were credited to the student's ledger account at the school and that were retained by the school also must be returned by the school. Any Direct Loan funds that were delivered to the student as a Title IV credit balance do not have to be returned by anyone. See the section for "Students Who Did Not Begin Attendance" in the March 5, 2020 Electronic Announcement for more information.

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Publication Date: 3/16/2020

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