Federal Regulations: Delays, Reviews, and a Call for Comments

Federal higher education regulations are under fire and the Department of Education wants your input. Let’s give it to them.

Only the Teacher Prep regulations suffered the quick death of the Congressional Review Act. Several other postsecondary consumer protection regulations now face delayed enforcement and/or possible death by committee.

Street sign reading "Wrong Way Go Back".

Higher education regulations are being delayed and reviewed…and, perhaps, replaced.

Recent Department Actions on Delays and Reviews

After glancing at the calendar and noticing that July 1 was approaching, the U.S. Department of Education seemed to realize suddenly that several regulations that they did not like were about to reach their effective date. The actions they took to avoid the July 1 deadlines:

  • Gainful Employment (in short, institutions had to report on employment outcomes for graduates) – On June 14, the implementation of the regulation was delayed and it was announced that the rule would be subject to a new negotiated rulemaking committee later this year. On June 30, the Department delayed disclosure requirements by a year to July 1, 2018. Yesterday, the Department opened a shorter-than-usual 30-day comment period on this regulation.
  • Borrower Defense to Repayment (in short, rules regarding defrauding students taking out federal loans) – In the same announcement with Gainful Employment on June 14, this regulation was delayed and will be subject to a second negotiated rulemaking committee later this year.
  • Cash Management (in short, institutional disclosure to student about options in finance tools used to use and receive financial aid funds) – On July 3, the regulation’s disclosure requirements were delayed until January 1, 2018 pending the release of a new “final suggested disclosure format for student financial accounts.”

In the press release announcing the change of status for the first two regulations mentioned above, Secretary Betsy DeVos said:  “It’s time for a regulatory reset. It is the Department’s aim, and this Administration’s commitment, to protect students from predatory practices while also providing clear, fair and balanced rules for colleges and universities to follow.” Yes, you read that correctly, she said “fair and balanced.” At least she did not say “repeal and replace,” as that has not been going so well.

Picture of a hand with a watch and a pen. The words "The Time to Comment is Now" appears on a letter presumably being written by the person in the photo.A Call for Comments on Regulations

In a separate action, the Department announced a commenting process “seeking input on regulations that may be appropriate for repeal, replacement, or modification.” Submit comments by August 21, 2017.

In addition to those comments, the Department presumably will rely on the 2015 analysis produced by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee: Recalibrating Regulation of Colleges and Universities: Report of the Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education. The Report made several recommendations on improving regulatory processes and cited several regulations that needed they thought should be repealed or replaced, such as:  Verification of student eligibility for financial aid, return of Title IV funds, financial responsibility standards, institution accreditation, and state authorization for distance education programs.

What’s Should You Be Doing?

You should comment.

Pick Department of Education regulations that you like or don’t like and comment. Don’t not feel limited to those issues mentioned in the Senate’s Report. This may be a time to comment on some of the issues that we’ve mentioned in the past in which distance education or educational technlogies are treated differently. I have in mind regular and substantive interaction, reporting last day of attendance, and some student identity regulations.

If you comment officially for your institution or organization, be sure that you have all the necessary approvals so that you do not get into trouble. Alternatively, you can comment as an individual. If you do so, you may mention your current position, but need to be clear that you are commenting on your own.

Cheryl Dowd, WCET State Authorization Network Director, and I are working on the first letter that WCET plans to submit as part of this process. We will focus on state authorization for that letter. Watch the WCET Frontiers blog for highlights of some of the issues that we plan to raise in that letter. Spoiler alert: We disagree with the Senate report. Since states regulate institutions regardless of whether or not there is a federal regulation, we think it is appropriate for the Department to check whether an institution is authorized in a state in which it disburses federal financial aid.

Babies, Bathwater, and Brains

Finally, a comment on “babies and bathwater” is in order. Almost all these rules are about consumer (meaning student) protection. In the zeal to clean house, the Department may become overzealous in discarding needed protections along with regulations that it finds abhorrent.

Let’s hope that we will collectively use our brains about what will and will not work…and what is best for students.

We need to avoid political knee-jerk reactions that, for one side, are limited to only 140 characters , for the other side, can be expressed only in 140 pounds of regulations.Photo of Russ Poulin

Russ

Russell Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis
WCET – The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
303 – 541 – 0305
rpoulin@wiche.edu    @russpoulin

 

Photo credit: Wrong Way


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