Do the COVID-19 Distance Education Flexibilities Apply To Incoming Students For the 2020-21 Award Year?

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This AskRegs Knowledgebase Q&A was updated on December 18, 2020 to reflect extended timeframes in the December 11, 2020 Federal Register. The following COVID-19 flexibilities now apply through the end of the payment period that begins after the date on which the federally declared qualifying emergency related to COVID-19 is rescinded.

Yes, but only if the payment periods meet certain conditions.

The timeframe for the distance education flexibilities in the March 5, 2020 Electronic Announcement and the April 3, 2020 Electronic Announcement applies to payment periods that overlap March 5, 2020, or that begin after March 5, 2020 through the end of the payment period begins after the date on which the federally declared qualifying emergency related to COVID-19 is rescinded.

As explained in the April 3 announcement, "If an institution chooses to continue offering a new program or using distance education in a manner requiring the Department’s approval after that point, it may be required to obtain approval under the Department’s and its accrediting agency’s applicable policies and procedures." For example, if the national emergency ends during the fall, and distance education classes extend beyond your fall term or payment period, the waiver will extend through the end of the payment period that began after the federally declared national emergency related to COVID-19 is rescinded. In this scenario, that would mean the program will need to meet distance education requirements for the summer term or payment period.

A distance education program at a domestic school is considered an eligible Title IV program if it has been accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) for accreditation of distance education. So, you may need approval from such an accrediting agency. The guidance in the December 11, 2020, Federal Register waives, through the end of the payment period that begins after the date on which the federally declared national emergency related to COVID -19 is rescinded, the requirement that schools must have obtained accreditation to offer distance education programs. You will want to reach out to CaseTeams@ed.gov or to your ED School Participation Division with specific questions related to program eligibility and accreditation.

See Dear Colleague Letter GEN-06-17 for specific instructions on notifying ED if the school intends to seek new accreditation and updating the E-App to reflect changes to the school’s accreditation. See also Volume 2, Chapter 5 of the FSA Handbook.

Any additional questions go to your ED School Participation Division and/or accrediting agency.

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