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Latest from FSA: Ask a FED

January 22, 2015

bartnickiFederal Training Officer David Bartnicki recently shared these updates:

Unusual Enrollment History (UEH)

At the FSA Training Conference it was mentioned in a few sessions that there were going to be a few changes to the UEH process for 2015-16.  Yes, that is true.  We are in the process of making modifications to the number of years to review and the Title IV programs reviewed (Pell and Direct Loans).  However, Policy and FSA are still reviewing the updates and finalizing all operational details.  Once our guidance has been finalized we will share any and all changes with the school community.  Please stay tuned to IFAP.

Ability to Benefit (ATB)

I have been getting lots of questions about the reinstatement of Ability to Benefit (ATB) alternatives that were recently put in place by the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015.  Please note that our Offices of General Counsel and Policy are busy reviewing the changes outlined in the law to ensure that any modifications to our current ATB rules are properly and accurately updated.  Once ED has had a chance to review, discuss and finalize our new guidance around ATB alternatives, we will provide the information to our schools as soon as possible.  Please stay tuned to IFAP.

Incarceration and Federal Pell Grants

ED posted Dear Colleague Letter GEN-14-21 on December 8, 2014 that discussed Federal Pell Grant eligibility for students confined or incarcerated in locations that are not Federal or State Penal Institutions.  Specifically, the letter clarifies that students who are confined or incarcerated in locations that are not Federal or State penal institutions, such as juvenile justice facilities, and who otherwise meet applicable eligibility criteria, are eligible for Federal Pell Grants.

We specifically indicate that juvenile justice facilities are not considered to be Federal or State penal institutions for purposes of the Federal Pell Grant Program, regardless of what governmental entity operates or has jurisdiction over the facility, including the Federal government or a State. Therefore, a student who is confined in a juvenile justice facility is eligible for a Federal Pell Grant so long as the student meets the other applicable eligibility criteria.

For a complete discussion of key incarceration definitions, student eligibility criteria and additional resources please see GEN-14-21 (http://ifap.ed.gov/dpcletters/GEN1421.html).

Apprenticeships and Title IV Programs

ED posted Dear Colleague Letter GEN-14-22 on December 18, 2014 announcing the availability of Federal Student Aid, including Federal Work-Study funds through the Job Location Development Program to support students in apprenticeship programs.  An apprenticeship is a training system that combines job-related instruction with structured on-the-job learning experiences.  GEN-14-22 provides information about the following –

  • If the apprenticeship is part of an academic program that participates in the Federal student aid programs, the institution may provide aid to an eligible student, including for the apprenticeship portion of the program.
  • An institution may use its Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program funds to pay the training wages for otherwise eligible FWS students employed as apprentices, even when the apprenticeship is not part of the student’s eligible academic program.
  • Under the FWS Job Location and Development Program, an institution, or a group of institutions, may use a portion of their FWS Federal allocation to locate and develop off-campus apprenticeship opportunities for students.

GEN-14-22 goes on to remind schools that except as may be required by the institution’s accrediting agency or state, there are no limits on the percentage of the program that may consist of on-the-job training, as long as the training is provided by the institution. Note that an institution must report to the Department any location at which 50 percent or more of an educational program is provided, including any on-the-job training component. If an entity other than the institution provides the on-the-job training, that component must be 25 percent of the program or less, or, with specific permission of the institution’s accrediting agency, over 25 percent but less than 50 percent of the program.  In such “contracting-out” situations, the institution must enter into a written arrangement with the entity providing the on-the-job training.

For more detailed information, please see GEN-14-22 (http://ifap.ed.gov/dpcletters/GEN1422.html).

Competency-Based Education Programs- Questions and Answers

ED posted Dear Colleague Letter GEN-14-23 on December 19, 2014 discussing how Title IV aid can currently be used to pay for programs and courses that have competency-based components under our existing statutory and regulatory requirements.  Please note that the DCL makes very clear distinctions between competency-based education in Title IV eligible direct assessment programs and Title IV eligible regular credit-hour programs.

GEN-14-23 incorporates 16 Q & As to help address school questions about –

  • The distinction between credit hour competency-based education and direct assessment;
  • Requirements for establishing credit hour equivalencies in direct assessment programs;
  • Requirements for regular and substantive interaction between students and faculty;
  • Prohibitions on paying Title IV aid for credit earned through prior learning assessments;
  • Satisfactory academic progress;
  • Return of Title IV Funds provisions; and
  • Accrediting agencies’ roles in reviewing competency-based education programs.

ED has also established a dedicated e-mail address to which institutions may submit questions about Title IV requirements for competency-based education programs/courses: CBE@ed.gov.

We also remind schools that under the Department’s Experimental Sites Initiative, we currently have three that are related to competency-based education and direct assessment programs. Those experiments would provide, to those institutions that are selected to participate, some flexibilities to the current requirements. Institutions wishing to apply to participate in one or more of the experiments described in the July 31, 2014, Federal Register notice, or ask questions about one of the experiments, should contact the Experimental Sites Initiative team at: experimentalsites@ed.gov.

Any schools interested in developing a direct assessment program should also review DCL GEN-13-10.

Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)

I received several questions during my SAP sessions at the FSA Training Conference that had to be reviewed by Policy.  I thought that I would share them with SASFAA since other schools may have similar questions.

Question #1: For a school that checks SAP at the end of each payment period, if a student is not receiving Title IV aid for their first 3 semesters (never applied for aid) but does so poorly in each of the semesters that cumulatively he is not making SAP after each semester, if he later applies for Title IV aid has his warning period already elapsed?

Answer #1: Yes. The student would be suspended from TIV aid and would only be eligible for TIV aid if an appeal was approved for probation.  Past periods not making SAP, whether receiving aid or not, can and does impact TIV eligibility in future terms.

Question #2: Does a school have to notify a non TIV student when their eligibility to receive TIV aid due to SAP has been impacted? Should a notice go out telling non TIV students that if they were to apply for TIV aid they would on warning or would have to appeal to be placed on probation?

Answer #2: There is no requirement under our regulations for a school to notify non-TIV students of their eligibility for Title IV aid; however, schools should be notifying students based on any SAP policies that deal with all students.

Question #3:  In reviewing transcripts, what happens if a transcript comes in during a semester? When would the transfer hours impact SAP?

Answer #3: The transfer hours on the transcript that could count in SAP would be factored in at the next scheduled SAP check point.

Question #4:  Though an academic plan is designed to have a student make SAP at a future point, if the student will never be able to bring up the minimum pace by the time they graduate (student faltered late in his program) can they still receive TIV aid if on a plan?

Answer #4: Based upon the guidance in the 10/29/10 federal register page 66886 this would be okay since the plan in part is to help the student obtain program completion as well as make SAP.  However, if the plan goes beyond the 150% max timeframe (which is possible since max timeframe is appealable), then the plan should dictate a point in time at which the student must graduate.

Question #5: The regulations indicate that an academic plan must be designed for a student to meet SAP by a specific point in time. How do we define a future point in time?

Answer #5: Where applicable a date should be used.  If a date cannot be confirmed then a school should use some kind of defined end-point – after the 3rd semester, anticipated graduation date, etc.  If the graduation point is after the 150% max timeframe, the graduation point should be indicated in some format.  This cannot simply be an open-ended process; there needs to be a finite point.

Question #6:  What happens if a student is on an academic plan and at the of the payment period they are not meeting the plan requirements but are now meeting the general SAP standards?

Answer #6: Once a student is meeting the general SAP standards at a checkpoint, regardless of the plan, they are now in good standing (main point of the plan is to help the student meet the SAP standards).  A school may want to indicate in a plan that a student can continue receiving TIV aid if they meet the plan criteria or meet all general SAP standards.

Training – Important GE Information

Dear Colleague Letter ANN-14-27 announced that on January 13, 2015 and again on January 15, 2015 at 1:00 P.M. (ET) we will present a webinar designed to provide institutions that participate in the Federal student assistance programs with information on reporting data to the Department for programs that prepare students for gainful employment (GE Programs).  For registration details please see ANN-14-27 (http://ifap.ed.gov/dpcletters/ANN1427.html).

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