On June 16, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) issued updated information related to their May 15, 2020 Guidance for interruptions of study related to Coronavirus (COVID-19). The revised guidance can be found here:
The updated information was solely related to the Return to Title IV (R2T4) Relief and made these changes:
- The R2T4 waiver may now be applied to a payment period or a period of enrollment that includes March 13, 2020, or begins between March 13, 2020 and the later of December 31, 2020 or the last day that the national emergency is in effect (“covered period”). The previous guidance had indicated that the payment period or period of enrollment had to begin on or include March 13, 2020. Thus, ED has broadened the scope of this relief.
Our opinion is that ED has extended the timeframe for the R2T4 waiver to be proactive in the event of a “2nd wave” of the Coronavirus causing future disruptions of education. In addition, this enables institutions to provide relief to students who drop due to COVID-19-related circumstances as a result of the re-opening of their local economy and the potential spike in infection rates. Thus, ED won’t have to continually reissue additional clarification, as this guidance provides relief through the end of 2020 (or until the national emergency has ended).
- The other update which ED made relates to the qualification for R2T4 relief. The initial guidance indicated that all students who dropped within the covered period from an institution that moved students from ground-based instruction to distance learning, closed campus housing or other campus facilities, or experienced other interruptions in instruction may consider all withdrawals of students enrolled in ground-based instruction during the covered period to have been the result of circumstances related to the COVID-19 national emergency. It was a subtle change, but the revised guidance now states “during a term within the covered period”. This means that a school may now apply this assumption to the redefined covered period. By specifying “term” we do not believe the Department intended to exclude non-term or clock hour payment periods.
We believe ED is also attempting to clarify that the disruption of education (enabling the automatic R2T4 relief) has to have occurred during a specific payment period in the covered period. Thus, if a student withdraws in a term during the covered period in which a change in the delivery mode of education did not occur, in order to apply the R2T4 waiver, the institution is required to obtain a written attestation from the student explaining why the withdrawal was the result of the COVID-19 emergency. We interpret this to mean that if an on-ground institution is currently teaching fully online or in a hybrid mode, this in itself does not allow for the automatic R2T4 relief. This clarification seems to have been made to provide relief where an institution that transitions students back to the historical on-ground instruction has to then transition them back to a hybrid or online teaching modality due to a “2nd wave” of the virus.
This new guidance may require institutions to revisit how the R2T4 waiver was applied for payment periods or periods of enrollment which didn’t include March 13, 2020. We are continuing to monitor guidance issued by ED. As always, we are available to answer your questions.