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June 9, 2015

bartnickiFederal Training Officer David Bartnicki recently shared these updates:

Citizenship and Immigration Status Documentation

The long awaited updated ED guidance surrounding original immigration and citizenship documentation was recently released in GEN-15-08 on May 1, 2015.

The new guidance states that if a student who would normally have to present original citizenship or eligible noncitizenship documentation cannot due to specific circumstances, like distance, then the institution may choose to develop a policy permitting such students to photocopy, scan, or otherwise image their immigration documents, and submit either electronic images or paper copies of the same to the institution’s financial aid office to facilitate the confirmation of their status. Additionally, for eligible noncitizens, the institution must also initiate the paper-based secondary confirmation process, using DHS-USCIS Form G-845, Document Verification Request, once confirmation documents are received from a noncitizen student.

DHS-USCIS has informed the Department that for the limited purpose of applying for Title IV, HEA student financial assistance, DHS-USCIS does not deem reproduction of immigration documents to be a statutory violation.

If the institution chooses to allow a student to submit a hard copy or electronic image of an original document, the institution should have a process in place to ensure that a student is submitting an exact copy, such as an affidavit. GEN-15-08 includes a sample copy of an affidavit.

The dear colleague letter also discusses potential steps to take if fraud is suspected or if the institution has concerns about the documents provided. For a more detailed discussion, please see GEN-15-08 – http://ifap.ed.gov/dpcletters/GEN1508.html.

New Ability-to-Benefit (ATB) Requirements

On May 22, 2015 the Department released what may be the most anticipated DCL for 2015 – GEN-15-09 (the new ATB rules and requirements).

The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 (Pub. L. 113-235) was enacted on December 16, 2014 allowing a student who does not have a high school diploma (or its recognized equivalent), or who did not complete a secondary school education in a homeschool setting, to be eligible for Title IV, HEA student assistance (Title IV aid) through ATB alternatives, but only if the student is enrolled in an “eligible career pathway program” as defined in section 484(d)(2) of the HEA.

The ATB alternatives include: passing an independently administered Department of Education approved ATB test; completing at least 6 credit hours or 225 clock hours that are applicable toward a degree or certificate offered by the postsecondary institution; or completing a State process approved by the Secretary of Education (currently no State process has ever been submitted for the Secretary’s approval). Currently, the approved ATB tests are ASSET, COMPASS, COMPASS ESL, CELSA, ACCUPLACER and Wonderlic Basic Skills Test.

A career pathway program combines rigorous and high-quality education, training, and support services that are aligned with the skill needs of industries in State or regional economies, preparing individuals to be successful in secondary or postsecondary education programs and the labor market.

An eligible career pathway program (as defined in section 484(d)(2) of the HEA) must:

  • Concurrently enroll students in connected adult education and eligible postsecondary programs;
  • Provide students with counseling and supportive services to identify and attain academic and career goals;
  • Provide structured course sequences that—

o Are articulated and contextualized; and

o Allow students to advance to higher levels of education and employment;

  • Provide opportunities for acceleration for students to attain recognized postsecondary credentials, including degrees, industry relevant certifications, and certificates of completion of apprenticeship programs;
  • Be organized to meet the needs of adults;
  • Be aligned with the education and skill needs of the regional economy; and
  • Have been developed and implemented in collaboration with partners in business, workforce development, and economic development.

As stated above, an eligible career pathway program contains two components: an adult education component and a Title IV eligible postsecondary program component. In this context, “adult education” has the same definition as it does under the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (Pub. L. 113-128) and includes academic instruction and education services below the postsecondary level that increase an individual’s ability to:

  • Read, write, and speak in English and perform mathematics or other activities necessary for the attainment of a secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent;
  • Transition to postsecondary education and training; and
  • Obtain employment.

What is important to remember is that a career pathway program is a program designed to assist adult students without a high school diploma transition to postsecondary learning with the goal of becoming employable within a certain career. Since an eligible career pathway program is not itself an eligible Title IV program under 34 CFR 668.8 because it contains an adult education component that includes, by definition, coursework that is below the postsecondary level, schools are prohibited from including the adult education component costs in the student’s COA and cannot include the adult education coursework in the student’s Title IV enrollment status.

Though a school can develop an eligible career pathway program that meets all of the criteria outlined in GEN-15-09, I believe that most schools currently have very few, if any, eligible career pathway programs.

For those schools with eligible career pathway programs, please remember that this change in the law was effective July 1, 2014. Therefore, any student enrolled in an eligible career pathway program as of July 1, 2014, and who met one of the ATB alternatives prior to July 1, 2014, may be awarded a Federal Pell Grant, TEACH Grant, and any aid from the Title IV campus-based programs beginning with the first payment period of the 2014–2015 award year in which the student was enrolled. A Direct Loan can be awarded for the entire loan period that includes July 1, 2014.

For any student who was enrolled in an eligible career pathway program as of July 1, 2014, and who meets one of the ATB alternatives on or after July 1, 2014, may be awarded a Federal Pell Grant, TEACH Grant, and any aid from the Title IV campus-based programs beginning with the payment period in which the student meets the ATB alternative. A Direct Loan can be awarded for the entire loan period that includes the date when the student meets the ATB alternative.

One last very important change to point out regarding the new ATB alternatives is that any student whose first enrollment in any Title IV eligible postsecondary program was on or after July 1, 2015, and is eligible under one of the ATB alternatives for enrollment in an eligible career pathway program, will only be eligible for a Limited Pell Grant award. GEN-15-09 contains an attachment with a Career Pathway Alternative Pell Grant Disbursement Schedule to determine the amount for which the student is eligible. The maximum Limited Pell Grant amount that such a student may receive for enrollment in an eligible career pathway program for the 2015–2016 award year is $4,860. However, keep in mind that the calculation of the percentage of the student’s annual Scheduled Award used will be based on the student’s full Scheduled Award under the Regular Federal Pell Grant Payment Schedule.

Eligible students whose first enrollment in any Title IV eligible postsecondary program was before July 1, 2015, and who are enrolled in an eligible career pathway program in or subsequent to the 2015–2016 award year, will be eligible for a Regular Pell Grant award.

Therefore, whenever an institution has a student enroll in an eligible career pathway program on or after July 1, 2015, institutions will now have to develop a policy to determine whether the student should receive a Regular Pell Grant award or a Limited Pell Grant award based on when the student began attendance in any Title IV eligible postsecondary program, without regard to whether the student received Title IV aid (all determinations must be documented).

For more information, including examples and a Pell eligibility chart, please see GEN-15-09 – http://ifap.ed.gov/dpcletters/GEN1509.html.

FSA ID

Though overall the FSA PIN replacement with the FSA ID has been going well, students, families and schools have had some questions as of the May 10, 2015 FSA ID implementation. To help assist students and families, ED has placed a series of FSA ID FAQs on studentaid.gov/fsaid. In addition, ED provided specific information on the following topics in an electronic announcement dated May 22, 2015 to further help institutions as they interact with students:

  • Linking a PIN to the FSA ID
  • Unique E-mail Address on FSA ID Account
  • Correcting Personally Identifiable Information (PII) on FSA ID Account
  • Verifying the FSA ID E-mail Address
  • Supported Browsers
  • Additional Information for Adding Fsaid.ed.gov as a Trusted Domain
  • No Change to FSA User ID Process for FAAs
  • FSA ID Contact Information

GE Programs

On May 20, 2015, ED posted an electronic announcement that provided the following reminder to institutions regarding what programs are considered GE programs. This information is important as we get closer to the initial GE reporting deadline of July 31, 2015.

Programs Offered by For-Profit Institutions – All educational programs offered by for-profit (proprietary) institutions are GE Programs with the following three exceptions:

  • Preparatory coursework necessary for enrollment in a Title IV eligible program [34 CFR 668.32(a)(1)(ii)];
  • Approved Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Programs for students with intellectual disabilities [34 CFR 668.231]; and
  • A limited number of bachelor degree programs in liberal arts if the institution has been regionally accredited since October 2007 and the program has been offered by the institution since January 2009 [34 CFR 600.5(a)(5)(i)(B)].

Programs Offered by Public and Private Non-Profit Institutions – All non-degree educational programs offered by public or private non-profit institutions are GE Programs with the following four exceptions:

  • Programs of at least two years in length designed to be fully transferable to a bachelor’s degree program where the institution does not confer a credential upon completion of the coursework [34 CFR 668.8(b)(1)(ii)];
  • Approved Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Programs for students with intellectual disabilities [34 CFR 668.231];
  • Preparatory coursework necessary for enrollment in an eligible program [34 CFR 668.32(a)(1)(ii)]; and
  • Teacher certification programs where the institution does not award a credential [34 CFR 668.32(a)(1)(iii)].

For more GE program information, please see the May 20, 2015 EA – http://ifap.ed.gov/eannouncements/052015GEAnnouncement53WhatisaGEProgram.html.

New Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM)

On May 18, 2015, ED published an NPRM amending several areas of the cash management regulations including ensuring that students have convenient access to their title IV, HEA program funds, do not incur unreasonable and uncommon financial account fees on their title IV funds, and are not led to believe they must open a particular financial account to receive their Federal student aid. ED also proposes to clarify how previously passed coursework is treated for title IV eligibility purposes (repeat coursework)and streamline the requirements for converting clock hours to credit hours (clock hour program definition).

If you have any interest in these Title IV areas, I strongly encourage you to read the Mary 18, 2015 NPRM and provide comments no later than July 2, 2015.

New Direct Loan Interest Rates

On May 15, 2015, ED published an electronic announcement outlining the new Direct Loan interest rates for loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2015 and prior to July 1, 2016. The new DL subsidized and unsubsidized undergraduate loan interest rates are 4.29%. The new DL unsubsidized graduate loan interest rate is 5.84%. And the new PLUS loan (graduate and parent) interest rate is 6.84%. Please make sure your systems incorporate the new interest rates for any loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2015.

Abbreviated Loan Periods

For those schools with clock hour or nonterm credit hour programs for DL purposes, policy recently clarified some guidance on how to determine loan eligibility amounts for a student that transfers into one of these programs with an overlapping academic year.

When a student transfers into a clock hour or nonterm credit hour program having received Direct Loan funds at the prior school and whose academic years overlap, the student’s maximum loan eligibility for the abbreviated loan period (start of the new school through the end of the prior school’s academic year) at the new school is the difference between the full annual loan limit for the student’s grade level at the new school, less any loan amount received for the overlapping academic year period at the prior school, regardless of the length of the program or remaining portion of the program at the new school. That is, the full annual loan limit applicable to the student’s grade level at the new school is always used to determine remaining loan eligibility for the abbreviated loan period, even if the program at the new school is less than a full academic year in length, or is a remaining portion of a program that is less than a full academic year in length.

Once a new BBAY begins after the end of the abbreviated loan period, the annual loan limit for the next loan will need to be prorated if the remaining portion of the program at the new school is shorter than an academic year. If the program at the new school was shorter than an academic year to begin with, the prorated annual loan limit for any remaining portion of the program after the start of the new BBAY should be determined by comparing the hours and weeks fractions associated with the remaining period of study, and then multiplying the lower fraction by the first-year annual loan limit. This is consistent with the normal proration rules for programs that are shorter than an academic year.

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