“Coming in July” Rules
On December 19, 2016 the U.S. Department of Education (ED) published new rules regarding state authorization of distance education and student assistance general provisions (34 CRF – Parts 600 and 668, respectively); those rules are to become effective July 1, 2018. They contain many requirements that will affect institutions’ distance education work, including the provision of notifications to students about an institution’s state authorization status in every state in which it enrolls students; its accreditation status (including any adverse actions it may have received); and whether the completion of the institution’s pre-licensure programs would enable students to sit for licensure exams in the various states. Institutions must also provide expanded information about how students may lodge complaints against the institution. In this post, we’ll focus on the licensure issue.
Current SARA provisions state that “Any institution operating under SARA that offers courses or programs potentially leading to professional licensure must keep all students, applicants and potential students who have contacted the institution about the course or program informed as to whether such offerings actually meet state licensing requirements.” (SARA Manual, 5.2) The coming ED rules go into far greater specificity on this topic. Clearly, all SARA institutions that participate in federal Title IV student financial aid programs must meet all rules that accompany that participation – regardless of whether the institution participates in SARA. (Documented participation in a state reciprocity agreement is, in the new rules, an acceptable way for an institution to demonstrate that it has needed authorization for the states in which they enroll students, but such participation would not relieve an institution of the rules’ proscribed notifications to students.) Come next July, we’ll go from having the SARA rules on notifications about professional licensure being the highest standard of practice to ED’s rules being the highest (and almost universally required) standard.
While some believe that these “coming in July” rules may be deferred, deferred and scheduled for additional negotiated rulemaking, overturned by Congress, or be dealt with in some other manner before they take effect, as our good friend Russ Poulin of WCET says, “the rules are the rules until they’re not the rules.” We’ll continue to seek clarification from ED on numerous aspects of the coming rules and share anything we learn.
Late Tuesday of this week the House Committee on Education and the Workforce completed markup of its bill – the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act (https://edworkforce.house.gov/prosper/) – intended to reauthorize (or “reform” as the Committee states) the Higher Education Act of 1965. PROSPER would eliminate 34 CFR – Parts 600 and 668 and forbid ED making other rules on the topic. Three very important points about that: this is the House’s bill, and the Senate will next year provide their own, which will prompt much additional discussion; eventual passage of a reauthorization bill by both the House and the Senate, and reconciliation of those two bills, will almost certainly not be completed before July of 2018, when the new rules we’ve been discussing are to take effect; and even if the federal requirement for state authorization and related matters such as notifications goes away, state laws and SARA requirements will remain. Russ Poulin helpfully goes into much greater detail in a recent blog, available at (https://wcetfrontiers.org/2017/12/04/house-hea/).
Marshall A. Hill
Executive Director, NC-SARA