**Update: On 4/2/2020, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it amended the public comment period timeline. The text below has been updated to reflect this update.**
The third package has arrived! In the midst of managing rapid conversion of face-to-face courses to online to maintain academic continuity during a pandemic, we received the third package of proposed regulations addressing Distance Education and Innovation from the 2019 U.S. Department of Education Negotiated Rulemaking. The Department has shared that there will be a 32-day comment period and that the Department will publish a final regulation prior to Nov. 1, 2020, as is required, in order for the new regulations to become effective the following year, July 1, 2021.
Let’s recap: On April 3, 2019, after many hours of meetings from January through March, the U. S. Department of Education negotiated rulemaking process resulted in a vote of consensus (unanimous affirmative vote on all regulations) by the negotiators about a set of regulations around the broad topic of Accreditation and Innovation. After consensus, the Department shared that they would likely release the consensus regulations in multiple packages throughout the following year. You may recall that in the negotiated rulemaking process, if the negotiators come to consensus that the language of the proposed regulations must be from the consensus language but for possible grammar and conflict of law edits. We then waited for the packages to be delivered. The first set of proposed regulations for Accreditation and State Authorization were released in June 2019 with a 30 day comment period. The Department reviewed the comments and released the final regulations for Accreditation and State Authorization on November 1, 2019 to meet the deadline for the regulations to become effective on July 1, 2020. The second set of proposed regulations regarding TEACH Grants and Faith Based Entities was released in December 2019 with a 30 day comment period. The final regulations have not been released as of this date.
You may wish to review the fact sheet and press release that accompanied the Distance Education and Innovation regulations. Please note the short 32-day window to provide public comments on these regulations. In our next post, we will provide you with some analysis of some issues that could have an impact on your institution for which you may want to submit a public comment. At the end of this post, please note the directions and benefits of submitting a public comment.
Quick Synopsis of the Proposed Regulations
As you decide whether to comment, you should consider some of the most germane parts of the proposed regulations. In the coming days, WCET will provide detailed analysis of those parts. The following list is a preview of those topics:
“Regular and substantive” interaction between students and instructors. This has long been a complicated issue, and the proposed regulations provide more concrete details than ever before.
Competency based education and direct assessment. The proposed regulations seek to support the continued development of these innovative educational methods by defining criteria for these programs to participate in Title IV aid.
Employer participation in developing educational programs. The proposed regulations allow institutions in certain contexts to modify their curriculum to meet requirements of industry advisory boards or other industry-recognized credentialing bodies.
Allowing students enrolled in Title IV, Higher Education Act (HEA) -eligible foreign institutions to complete up to 25% of their programs at an eligible institution in the United States. A foreign institution might want to permit U.S. students enrolled in its eligible programs to complete part of their education in the United States. For example, a student may experience personal difficulties that would necessitate study in the United States for a limited time period (this provision is particularly important for students temporarily unable to attend courses abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
Commenting on the proposal
How to Comment
As we always encourage you to do…. Join the fun! Comment! VOLUME COUNTS. The Department pays attention when there are multiple comments on the same topic.
Who Should Comment?
Institutional personnel, program personnel, or individuals may comment. If you serve students in other states, you should consider commenting. For an institutional or programmatic comment, you need to navigate the proper government relations channels at your institution. This may be difficult given the May 4 deadline.
If you comment as an individual, you can’t use your institution or organization letterhead. You can supply your name, title, and employer as context. It might be good to reiterate that you are not commenting in your official capacity.
How Do I Comment?
Directions on how to comment appear in the “Summary” section of the of the notice of proposed rulemaking. You may: “Submit your comments through the Federal eRulemaking Portal or via postal mail, commercial delivery, or hand delivery. We will not accept comments submitted by fax or by email or those submitted after the comment period. To ensure that we do not receive duplicate copies, please submit your comments only once. In addition, please include the Docket ID at the top of your comments. If you are submitting comments electronically, we strongly encourage you to submit any comments or attachments in Microsoft Word format.”
What Should I Say?
Personalize it as form letters get less attention. Briefly tell your story. Who are you? What impact would these regulations have on students? What impact would these regulations have on your program? Focus on what would have the greatest impact on you and your students. Say why the proposed would regulations would help or hurt you, your institution, and (especially) your students. Discard the rest.
Be respectful. We can be better than the presidential nominees.
Make positive or helpful suggestions. We all hate the responses which object to everything without supplying, at least some, helpful alternatives. This helps to address the sense that we are merely objecting to any type of oversight or anything that inconveniences us. We’re for regulations that serve a purpose and for which the cure is not worse than the disease. If you have a way to fix the problem, suggest it.
Ask questions about clarifications that are needed.
As we noted, the comment period closes May 4, so you must act quickly. The Department will review and must respond to all pertinent comments. If they issue their response and final regulations by Nov. 1, 2020, then the regulations go into effect on July 1 of next year.
You can expect another post shortly with detailed analysis of the key aspects of these proposed regulations, so that you will take the next step and submit a public comment in the issues that you believe need revision or additional guidance. Your voice is important!
This is a highly dynamic situation and WCET will continue to update this post as needed. As always, we recommend that you directly contact your accreditor for specific guidance. WCET will continue to provide resources and updates related to COVID-19. Please see the WCET COVID-19 webpage which lists a number of curated resources for instruction, assessment, student services, regulatory policy, technology/infrastructure, and institutional emergency response planning.