Can We Accept Photographed Or Scanned Documents By Smartphone Or Text Due To COVID-19?

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This AskRegs Knowledgebase Q&A was updated on January 5, 2021 to provide clarification and 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payment period that begins after the date on which the federally declared qualifying emergency related to COVID-19 is rescinded.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 it's entirely up to the institution after consulting with its information technology (IT) department and/or legal counsel.

The December 11, 2020 Federal Register allows a school to "accept a document signed and photographed and sent by email or text message attachment, on any verification documentation required to validate a student’s title IV eligibility..."

The following guidance, which applies more broadly than just verification documents, is from the U.S. Department of Education's (ED's) Title IV, HEA Q&A that is attached to the May 15, 2020 Electronic Announcement:

"The Department cannot exempt an institution from record retention or data security requirements. An institution must use its judgment to determine whether it can securely use email or other electronic methods to exchange information with applicants and students. For example, an institution may determine that during the COVID-19 national emergency, they will accept documents (as permitted by the Office of Postsecondary Education’s Updated Guidance for interruptions of study related to Coronavirus (COVID-19), posted April 3, 2020) by photograph via smartphone or as a scanned document, as opposed to notarized or certified paper copies of documents that may be required under normal circumstances. In such instances, the institution must continue to properly preserve those documents for their records, which may include preserving text messages for the formal record or requiring students to provide hard copies, notarized copies or official copies of documents through the institution’s normal process when normal campus operations resume. We are providing flexibility to institutions regarding how they can collect documents during the national emergency, but institutions are still required to maintain the requisite documents in their records during and after the national emergency."

If you have questions or want to approve individual documents, delivery methods, or electronic signature requirements, consult with your IT department or legal counsel. NASFAA will not be making such determinations, as this is outside our area of Title IV expertise.

See also AskRegs Q&A, Can We Use Email To Communicate With and Collect Documents From Students and Parents?, which applies beyond COVID-19 and the national emergency.

Note: This AskRegs Q&A was updated on August 24, 2020 to reflect extended deadlines in the August 21, 2020 Electronic Announcement.

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.