Education Department Announces It Won’t Punish Colleges For Reconsidering Student Aid

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks this week throughout a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP cover caption

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Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks this week throughout a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

The U.S. Department of Education moved this week to make it simpler for schools to rethink and doubtlessly enhance monetary support for college kids who’ve misplaced jobs or household revenue within the financial disaster. The transfer comes after NPR reported in June that the division had shelved steerage meant to encourage faculty support directors to train what’s often called “professional judgment” and rethink support for college kids whose funds have modified.

Most college students planning to attend faculty within the fall submitted monetary data from 2018 — data which will now be woefully outdated for a lot of households given the present, pandemic-driven recession. But reconsidering monetary support packages for too many college students can set off an investigation from the Department of Education to ensure colleges aren’t misusing funds. These evaluations might be labor-intensive and result in pricey fines.

In 2009, in response to the Great Recession, the Obama administration assured colleges they might not be punished for serving to college students. In latest months, with job losses mounting, faculty monetary support directors started asking if that 2009 steerage was nonetheless energetic, stated Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

The Department of Education quietly addressed that query in late May throughout a name with stakeholders. According to a number of sources accustomed to the decision, a prime division official indicated that, regardless of the downturn, the steerage was not energetic. The official described the unemployment challenges many college students now face as “temporary,” not like the Great Recession, and disagreed with the earlier coverage of permitting colleges to fast-track assist for college kids receiving unemployment advantages.

The division had stated little publicly concerning the obvious shift in coverage, which alarmed monetary support directors. The steerage had been labeled “Maintained for Historical Purposes Only,” although it’s not clear when that label was added. The division additionally amended its Federal Student Aid Handbook on June 12, calling the steerage “outdated.”

“I think financial aid offices are out there doing their best,” Rachelle Feldman instructed NPR in June. She is affiliate provost of scholarships and scholar support on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “The fear of audit, the change in guidance — it’s all very real and paralyzing.”

On Thursday, the Department of Education clarified its position, saying it “understands that high unemployment nationwide resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will increase the number of professional judgment decisions performed” and that it “will not negatively view increased use of professional judgment or use it as a selection criterion for a program compliance review.”

In brief: Colleges is not going to be punished for reconsidering many college students’ support packages.

“We’re pleased to see the department taking steps … to provide schools reassurance that they can help students in need without later being unduly penalized,” Draeger stated.

The information comes as many colleges stated they’re already seeing spikes in requests to revisit college students’ support packages. According to Draeger, when his group surveyed its member establishments in June, 90% of monetary support places of work on the practically 300 colleges that responded stated they anticipate a rise in these skilled judgment requests this yr.

The division’s announcement got here the identical day the 4 prime Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate training committees despatched a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urging her to make clear the division’s place and clarify to varsities that they will reopen college students’ monetary support recordsdata with out concern of triggering a federal compliance assessment.

The bipartisan letter additionally urged DeVos to affirm that support places of work can zero out revenue for any scholar who’s receiving unemployment advantages — a robust step to fast-track monetary support for college kids who want it most. This provision was additionally a part of the unique 2009 steerage however was not included within the division’s Thursday announcement.

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