Season Shifts and Policy Changes: Important Rule Changes You May Have Missed

Have you had the opportunity to notice that some parts of the U.S. have seen a change in the weather and the trees? To say that this fall has been busy is quite an understatement! We know that everyone has placed significant focus on the development and implementation of strategies to safely maintain academic continuity.

a road surrounded by trees in the fall
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Meanwhile, a few issues have occurred for which we think are important and did not want you to miss. These issues are varied. In support of military students, you should be aware of the extension to the date of GI Bill flexibilities and the tuition assistance decrease for the Air Force. Important legislation has been signed by the Governor in California affecting the definition of a non-profit institution for the purpose of state institutional oversight. Additionally, we will share information about the upcoming NC-SARA Board meeting that will address proposed SARA Manual changes that affect institutions that obtain state institutional approval through reciprocity for out-of-state activities subject to SARA policy.

GI Bill Benefits

We previously reported that that as the institutions pivoted to 100% remote learning last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students who relied on GI Bill benefits, feared losing a portion of their benefits. Traditionally, veterans who take all of their courses in a term at a distance receive only half of the Basic Allowance for Housing that veterans receive who enroll completely on-campus or in a mix of face-to-face and online courses. The original legislation that implemented that limitation on benefits did not include any contingencies in the event of an emergency. The Secretary of Defense was without the authority to address the pandemic shift of the vast majority of courses to online learning.

Fortunately, Congress acted quickly in March 2020 to pass emergency legislation to authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs to continue educational assistance through December 21, 2020 for programs that were converted to online due an emergency or health related situation. In April 2020, Congress passed additional emergency legislation to provide further relief with supplementary protections to preserve work study allowances, vocational rehabilitation, employment programs, and GI Bill eligibility through December 21, 2020 if the institution is forced to close.

As the December 2020 end date of the emergency legislation was looming, Congress passed an extension of the GI Bill protections to continue until December 2021. To avoid a government shutdown, H.R. 8337- Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act was passed by Congress at the end of September. The legislation included the extension of authority for various Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) programs. Section 5202 of this legislation extends the covered period during which certain adjustments for veteran’s education benefits apply to December 21, 2021, including the housing allowance for students participating in all remote courses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In related news, we just learned that the Department of Veterans Affairs lost the domain rights to GI.Bill.com. Stay tuned as we learn more about the long-term impact. Please be aware, as there is concern that this site may be used in a less than scrupulous manner. The URL now goes to an unofficial site filled with ads.

Air Force Tuition Assistance

AirForceTimes reports that an unexpected surge in airmen seeking tuition assistance caused the Air Force to exhaust the tuition assistance 2020 budget of $163,400,000 by late August 2020. It is believed that the surge is due to more airmen pursuing academic opportunities due to stay-at-home orders caused by the pandemic. The Air Force was able to obtain an additional $17,600,000 to approve all funding requests for 2020, but the Air Force wishes to avoid a shortage next year.

The overall budget for tuition assistance for 2021 will remain the same as 2020. However, in order to ensure that the benefit is accessible to as many airmen as possible, the Air Force will cut the maximum amount of money an airmen can receive in tuition assistance, in a calendar year, from $4,500 in 2020 to $3,750 in 2021. There are waivers that can be granted under unique circumstances, such as a program requiring a lab class. It is reported that the Air Force had 80,430 airmen seeking tuition assistance as of late September and it is anticipated that that there will be a similar number of airmen seeking tuition assistance in 2021.

California Law Changes View of Some Nonprofit Institutions

In September, the Governor of California signed legislation that affects whether a non-profit institution must register for state institutional approval in California and be subject to oversight by the Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE). Additionally it affects whether the institution can enter into a contract for complaint processing through the “independent institution pathway provided by SB81.

California will no longer exempt out-of-state non-profits if they switched from a for-profit since 2010…unless they meet four requirements.

Assembly Bill No. 70 (AB70) amends the California Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009. The biggest impact of the legislation is on the out-of-state institutions that have been previously exempted from required state institutional approval as a non-profit institution. As of January 1, 2022, the exemption will no longer be available if that non-profit institution operated as a for-profit institution during any period on or after January 1, 2010, unless the California Attorney General verifies the complete set of four requirements listed in the new legislation about the financial structure of the institution. Although the institution may be viewed as a non-profit institution for purposes of the U.S. Department of Internal Revenue (IRS), the new law re-defines how the non-profit institution will be viewed for purposes of California institutional approval and oversight. The affected institutions that fall under this new classification will be required to complete the registration process, pay required fees, obtain an agent for service of process, contribute to the Student Tuition Recovery Fund, and participate in the renewal process. One must remember that California is the only state does not participate in reciprocity for state institutional approval through State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA).

This legislation stemmed from a spate of for-profit institutions that converted to non-profit institutions in the last several years. A series of bills arose in the California Legislature in 2019 to seek tighter regulation on for-profit institutions in California to provide what was expressed as the need for important protections for students.

We will continue to report on this issue as the implementation strategy by BPPE is undetermined. It will be important to learn how BPPE will enforce the new law for out-of-state institutions that have been serving students located in California without state institutional approval due to the institution’s status as an accredited non-profit institution. It is unknown how BPPE will address the non-profit institutions to determine if they fall into this new oversight category. Stay Tuned!

NC-SARA Board Meeting – SARA Manual Recommendations

The NC-SARA Fall Board Meeting will be held virtually October 27-29, 2020. The public may view the board meeting booklet and register for an October 29 public session from the NC-SARA Website Fall Meeting Webpage. The public session will allow the public to listen to the SARA Manual policy modification discussion portion of the meeting. The purpose of the board meeting is to bring together the NC-SARA Board Members to discuss progress and updates from the regional compacts, address finances, discuss Executive Committee recommendations, policy modifications, and other related issues.

The policy modifications for which institutions may be interested include the items listed below. The bullets are based upon a review of the NC-SARA board meeting booklet to provide additional clarity to the proposed modifications.

  1. Approve Section 3.2 change to add one additional reason that a state might put an institution on provisional status.
    • The participating institution may be put on provisional status for violation of or noncompliance with SARA policies.
    • The purpose is to add flexibility of a consequence a state portal entity may impose for an institution that fails to follow SARA policy.
  2. Approve Section 1 modification to add a phrase regarding non-credit bearing courses to the definition of “Operate.”
    • To add the phrase “and non-credit bearing courses”.
    • The purpose is to provide clarity that SARA policy can extend to both credit bearing and non-credit bearing courses as the types of non-degree programs offered by a SARA participating institution.
  3. Approve Section 2.6(c) modification to replace the word “it” with “the Compact” for clarity of reference.
    • The purpose is to provide clarity by replacing the pronoun “it” with the intended entity.
  4. Approve Section 3.1(b)(6) modification to language to align with application requirements for all institutions when programs are no longer offered.
    • The purpose is to better align the application and the manual regarding a program that is no longer offered.
  5. Approve Section 4.4(g) modification to delete the word “issues” in the context of the section regarding mandatory arbitration.
    • Clarifies that SARA policy does not leave room for any use of mandatory arbitration. The word issues appeared to raise the question whether there could be an opening to mandatory arbitration.
  6. Approve Section 8.2(a) modification to add a phrase to specifically indicate that input on policy is expected from institutions and other key stakeholders and brought to the attention of NC-SARA.
    • The purpose is to encourage recommendations for policy modifications by institutions and regional compacts as stakeholders.

NC-SARA will host a webinar to report on these board actions on November 19, 2020.

We Will Continue to Update You

There seems to be a lot to keep up with these days!

SAN and WCET endeavor to keep you updated. I also suggest that you also review a great new compiled resource of higher education policies – the newly released POLICY PLAYBOOK – Pursuing Regulatory Compliance for Digital Instruction in Response to COVID-19.  Issues include:

  • Accreditation,
  • Financial Aid Eligibility,
  • State Authorization & Licensure,
  • Student Civil Rights.
  • And more!

Written by: Van Davis, Cheryl Dowd, Russ Poulin, & Dan Silverman.

Also included are Special Topics Publications which provide more comprehensive information about Accreditation, Accessibility, Financial Aid, and State Authorization (see page 68 of the playbook for additional details).

Finally, don’t forget to get outside every once in a while and enjoy the Fall!


Cheryl Dowd

Cheryl Dowd – Director,
WCET State Authorization Network
cdowd@wiche.edu  @dowdcm



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My name is Lindsey Rae Downs. I am the Assistant Director of Communications and Community for WCET, the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies. I work remotely from beautiful Helena, MT.

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