The Department of Education recently published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that, if it becomes a rule, would have sizable effects on different forms of distance education.
The proposed Distance Learning and Innovation rules, the second tranche of rules to emerge from the negotiated rulemaking committee on accreditation and innovation that ended in consensus in April 2019, would define key terminology and update existing regulations to provide more clarity and flexibility to institutions that offer distance education.
Notable for NACUBO members, the rules would clarify Return of Title IV (R2T4) guidelines for nonterm, subscription, and module-based programs. The rules would determine that any student in a nonterm or subscription-based program who has completed graduation requirements or has confirmed in writing their intent to resume attendance would not be counted as a withdrawal under R2T4. Similarly, a student in a module program who withdraws after completing 50 percent or more of the number of days in the payment period would not be considered a withdrawal.
Other notable provisions include:
- Relaxing the definition of “regular and substantive interaction” in distance education to allow for a student to interact with multiple instructors instead of a singular instructor.
- Creates a distance education-specific definition of “clock hour” to codify existing instructional policies.
- Define “incarcerated student” and “juvenile justice facility” to clarify that such students are eligible for Pell Grants.
In a press release, ED Secretary Betsy DeVos cited the ongoing coronavirus crisis as an example of why existing regulations need to be overhauled in favor of more innovation.
ED will accept public comment on the rules until May 4, 2020, and will publish a final rule no later than November 1, 2020, for implementation in July of 2021. NACUBO will continue to monitor and report on changes relating to these rules.
Unrelated to the publication of this NPRM, ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid recently published new guidance that increases flexibilities around distance education as institutions respond to the coronavirus pandemic.