NAICU Washington Update

Additional Extensions of COVID Relief Flexibilities Announced

December 10, 2020

The Department of Education announced the extension of modifications and waivers to current statutory and regulatory provisions granted to the higher education community in response to COVID-19. The length of the extra time is dependent upon the type of extensions mentioned in the guidance.  This announcement is a continuation of the guidance the Department announced earlier this year.  

An important provision that is not included in the extension is one that deals with distance education and the waivers granted to accreditors. In previous guidance documents, the Department directly approved the ability of institutions to offer distance education courses without going through a standard approval process with their accreditor to allow them to respond quickly to COVID-19. Accreditors were not mandated to forego the standard approval process but were given the option of doing so without any negative action taken by the Department. There is no mention in the updated guidance document about these provisions, raising the question as to whether this flexibility is still being granted. 

However, the announcement does identify the following extensions regarding distance education and accreditation:
  • Extended 180 days beyond the end date of the national emergency:
    • Accreditors are allowed to conduct virtual site visits to campuses and additional campus locations;
    • The need for accreditors to have a certain level of accreditation and preaccreditation standards that effectively address the quality of distance education programs, correspondence courses, or direct assessment education is waived for institutions working to accommodate students whose enrollment is interrupted as a result of COVID-19;
    • A waiver on the limitation of five-years on preaccreditation status before a final determination is made; and 
    • A waiver of an accreditor’s comprehensive systematic program of review standards to expedite temporary standards to approve distance education programs.
  • Extended through the end of the payment period that begins after the end date of the national emergency is the waiver of the Departmental requirement for institutions to obtain state authorization to provide educational programs through distance education but they are still required to meet applicate state requirements.
Additional extensions include items such as: 
  • Extending the time (an additional six months) for institutions to submit their annual compliance and financial statement audits;
  • Allowing institutions to remain eligible for participation in Title IV programs if they resumed offering educational programs after temporarily closing or suspending their educational programs due to COVID-19;
  • Providing additional flexibility to approve leaves of absence for students whose coursework is suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Granting the flexibility for institutions that participate in the Federal Work-Study program without being subject to the community service requirements; and
  • Providing academic calendar flexibility to address scheduling complications that have arisen as a result of the COVID-19 national emergency.