Can a School Assume All Fall Withdrawals Are COVID-Related If It Planned In Advance To Send Everyone Home After Thanksgiving?

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Scenario: 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 do continue study online for the remainder of the term.

Answer: No. According to guidance NASFAA received from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), this scenario will not count as a disruption in campus operations or instruction that would allow the school to assume all withdrawals during the fall term are COVID-related.

To apply the assumption for the return of Title IV funds (R2T4) waiver and withdrawal benefits under the CARES Act, the May 15, 2020 Electronic Announcement reads, “Any institution that moved students from ground-based instruction to distance learning, closed campus housing or other campus facilities, or experienced other interruptions in instruction during a term within the covered period may consider all withdrawals from students enrolled in affected programs during that term to have been the result of circumstances related to the COVID-19 national emergency.”

Per ED: "Even though the changes to the academic calendar were ostensibly made due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in this situation the adjustment to the academic calendar took place prior to the beginning of the fall term, so the changes are not considered a disruption that occurred 'during a term within the covered period.'

The logic behind this approach is that students who begin a payment period with foreknowledge of changes to the instructional timeframe or modality are able to prepare themselves and are less likely to withdraw as a result of those COVID-19-related changes than students who believed that instruction would be carried out in one way, but subsequently learn during the term that classes will be moved online or campus facilities will be unavailable as a result of the pandemic."

This doesn't mean you cannot apply the R2T4 waiver; it just means you cannot assume every withdrawal during the covered period is due to COVID-19. Unless there is some other disruption of campus operations or instruction that takes place during the fall term, you would need an attestation from the student to confirm his or her withdrawal was due to COVID-19 before you apply the R2T4 waiver and assign the Coronavirus Indicator to qualifying disbursements.

R2T4 waiver refers to the fact that the CARES Act, waives the requirement for the school or the student to return Title IV funds when a student withdraws due to COVID-19 anytime during the entire payment period that falls within the covered period.

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."

For greater detail and more examples, see AskRegs Knowledgebase Q&A, How Do We Determine If a Withdrawal Was the Result Of a Qualifying Emergency Due To Coronavirus?

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.