How Do We Determine If a Withdrawal Was the Result Of a Qualifying Emergency Due To Coronavirus?

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This AskRegs Knowledgebase Q&A was updated on October 19, 2020 to add a note and cross-reference about schools that planned in advance to send all students home and to resume studies online after Thanksgiving 2020.

Per the updated May 15, 2020 Electronic Announcement, determining whether a student withdrew due to COVID-19 depends on whether there was an interruption of instruction or campus operations due to COVID-19 during the payment period or period of enrollment within the covered period (defined below).

Interruptions In Instruction or Campus Operations: All students who withdrew from affected programs during the payment period or period of enrollment may be considered COVID-19 related withdrawals if any of the following take place during the applicable payment period or period of enrollment:

According to guidance NASFAA has received from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), if you had already returned Title IV funds and have documentation that the withdrawal was not due to COVID-19 (regardless of the date of withdrawal), it is reasonable if you choose not to implement the R2T4 waiver (defined below) and re-disburse the Title IV funds based on the above assumption. Likewise, if you have not yet returned funds and have documentation that the withdrawal is not COVID-related (again, regardless of the date of withdrawal), you are not required to apply assumption or to implement the R2T4 waiver; you can process the R2T4 as you would under pre-COVID regulation and guidance.

Unfortunately, this assumption cannot be applied in the scenario when, before classes started for the 2020-21 academic year, the school adjusted its fall 2020 term calendar so students do not return to campus after Thanksgiving break, but they continue studies online for the remainder of the term. See AskRegs Q&A, Can a School Assume All Fall Withdrawals Are COVID-Related If It Planned In Advance To Send Everyone Home After Thanksgiving?

No Interruptions In Instruction or Campus Operations: For institutions that did not undergo changes in educational delivery or campus operations as a result of COVID-19 during the payment period or period of enrollment within the covered period, the student is considered a COVID-related withdrawal only if the student provides the institution with a written attestation (including by email or text message) explaining why the withdrawal was the result of the COVID-19 emergency. Additionally, a student is considered a COVID-related withdrawal from a distance education program only if the student provides a written attestation (including by email or text message) explaining why the withdrawal was the result of the COVID-19 emergency. Notice, there is no signature requirement here. If no such attestation is received, the withdrawal is not COVID-related and unearned Title IV aid resulting from the R2T4 calculation must be returned.

Allowable circumstances for the attestation include, but are not limited to:

Information (which in the judgment of the institution is reliable) provided by the family member of a withdrawn student whom the institution is unable to contact is acceptable for documentation purposes.

Per the May 15th announcement, "For institutions that did not undergo changes in educational delivery or campus operations as a result of the COVID-19 emergency, during a term or payment period within the covered period, the institution will be required to obtain a written attestation (including by email or text messages) from the student explaining why the withdrawal was the result of the COVID-19 emergency." Of course, the school could build the COVID-19 attestation into its existing official withdrawal process in order to prevent duplication of effort; how the school does this is up to the school. If the school collects the attestation and it indicates the student withdrew for reasons other than COVID-19, the R2T4 waiver does not apply. The school performs the R2T4 calculation under normal R2T4 rules in 34 CFR 668.22 that are unrelated to COVID-19. The school and the student return all unearned Title IV aid from the R2T4 calculation, and the student does not qualify for Direct Loan or TEACH Grant disbursement cancellation or exclusion of the Federal Pell Grant disbursement from lifetime eligibility used (LEU).

Collection of the attestation will need to be done retroactively in some cases. In those cases, after the attestation is received, you follow the guidance in AskRegs Q&As, How Do We Implement the R2T4 Waiver If We Are Performing the First R2T4 Calculation For the Student? or How Do We Implement the R2T4 Waiver If We Are Re-Disbursing Aid We Already Returned Under the R2T4 Calculation?

Example: The term-based school experienced a disruption in educational instruction during the spring term/payment period and moved all classes from ground-based (residential) classes to online classes in the middle of the spring term when the outbreak started. The school also sent students home at that time. In this scenario, you can assume all withdrawals during the entire spring term are COVID-related (even if the student withdrew before March 13 or before the COVID-related disruption occurred on campus) and you do not need individual attestations from students in order to exercise the R2T4 waiver.

Now comes the summer term/payment period. Before the summer term started, the school decided to continue all students in online classes for the summer term. These students remain off campus for the summer. These students start attendance in online classes for the summer term and they remain in online classes for the entire summer term. In this scenario, there are no disruptions in instruction (or campus operations) that take place during the summer term. The disruption occurred during the spring term, not the summer term. In order to exercise the R2T4 waiver, each student who withdraws from the summer term must provide an attestation confirming that his, her, or their withdrawal was due to COVID-19. In this scenario, the school cannot assume all summer withdrawals are COVID-related because there has been no disruption of instruction or campus operations that occurred during the summer term.

Now comes the fall term/payment period, which began on August 20. Students began classes on campus, and due to an outbreak on campus, all campus-based instruction was moved online during the fall term. That would be an interruption in instruction or campus operations that occurred during the fall term, and all withdrawals from those ground-based programs for that fall term may be assumed to be COVID-related without individual attestations from students.

NASFAA has confirmed this guidance with ED. Please see the March 19, 2021 Electronic Announcement (GENERAL-21-19) for additional guidance and examples.

Covered Period: The May 15th announcement now allows schools to apply the R2T4 waiver to: 1) payment periods or periods of enrollment that include March 13, 2020; or 2) payment periods or periods of enrollment that begin between March 13 and the later of December 31 or the last date that the national emergency is in effect. This is what we are calling the "covered period." In other words the covered period includes multiple payment periods or periods of enrollment. This means, for example, schools can now apply the R2T4 waiver to quarters and nonterm payment periods that were previously excluded under the same May 15th announcement, as well as to the 2020-21 award year.

The determination of whether a student withdrew due to COVID-19 still must be made on a payment period-by-payment period or a period of enrollment-by-period of enrollment basis within the covered period. That is, you cannot assume all withdrawals are COVID-related for the payment period that includes March 13th all the way through the end of the qualifying emergency. You have to determine this for each payment period/period of enrollment separately. For example, a school experienced a disruption in instruction or campus operations during the spring term, but did not experience a disruption in instruction or campus operations during the summer term. In this example, the school would need to collect attestations from students in order to apply the R2T4 waiver for those students in the summer term. Per the May 15th announcement, "For institutions that did not undergo changes in educational delivery or campus operations as a result of the COVID-19 emergency, during a term or payment period within the covered period, the institution will be required to obtain a written attestation (including by email or text messages) from the student explaining why the withdrawal was the result of the COVID-19 emergency."

Payment Period Or Period of EnrollmentRemember that standard term programs must use the standard term payment period (semester, trimester, quarter) in the R2T4 calculation; they do not have the option to use the period of enrollment. A nonterm or nonstandard term program has a choice to use either the payment period or the period of enrollment in the R2T4 calculation. Therefore, it is NASFAA's understanding (because the Electronic Announcement language is unclear) that whichever period is used in the R2T4 calculation requires a determination of whether a student withdrew during that payment period or period of enrollment due to COVID-19.

August 21, 2020 Update: Per the August 21, 2020 Electronic Announcement, "Where an institution has opted to use the period of enrollment to calculate its returns for a non-term or non-standard term program, the waiver may apply to a student who begins attendance in a payment period that includes December 31, 2020 or the last date that the national emergency is in effect and withdraws after the conclusion of that payment period but within the applicable period of enrollment."

Note About Unofficial Withdrawals: All of the above guidance also applies to unofficial withdrawals regardless of when the calendar midpoint falls within the payment period or period of enrollment.

Retroactive Application: See AskRegs Q&A, Can a School Choose Not To Apply the R2T4 Waiver Under the CARES Act and Return Unearned Title IV Funds Anyway?

Notes:

AskRegs Q&As represent NASFAA's understanding of regulatory and compliance issues. They are FOR INTERNAL USE ONLY. While NASFAA believes AskRegs Q&As are accurate and factual, they have not been reviewed or approved by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). If you should need written confirmation of AskRegs information for audit or program review purposes, please contact your ED School Participation Division. NASFAA shall not be liable for technical or editorial errors or omissions contained herein; nor for incidental or consequential damages resulting from the furnishing, performance, or use of this material.