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ED’s Dear Colleague Letters (DCLs) on IFAP

July 17, 2015
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GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT (GE)

DCL – GEN-15-12: June 30, 2015 – Regulatory Requirements Related to Gainful Employment Programs

ED has published a synopsis of all of the regulatory requirements that pertain to GE programs.  This DCL summarizes what constitutes a GE program, the disclosure and reporting requirements, the calculation of the D/E ratios and how to challenge draft D/E rates or appeal final D/E rates, as well as the requirement for transitional certification of existing programs by December 31, 2015.  Those who are new to financial aid and the world of GE responsibilities will find this an extensive introductory “summary” of the obligations applicable to the GE regulations.  It can also serve as an excellent executive summary for school leadership (presidents, CEOs, owners, etc.).

GENERAL AND VARIED DCL TOPICS

DCL – GEN-15-06: April 06, 2015 – Loan Counseling Requirements and Flexibilities

ED presents this DCL with a hope that it helps schools remember what their loan counseling responsibilities are, and encourages schools to consider providing additional counseling information.

DCL – GEN-15-08: May 1, 2015 – Citizenship and Immigration Status Documentation

Federal StudentThis DCL is important to those who determine students’ citizenship status when the student may not be able to physically present the required documents in person.  The guidance provided by ED in this DCL has been long needed for those schools who have distance learning programs and/or schools whose students may attend class and be present on-campus only when offices are not open, etc.  The guidance in cases of documenting a student’s eligible noncitizen status may allow for a student to submit a photocopy or scanned image, etc., of appropriate documentation that will confirm the student’s status.  The school must then submit the documentation through the paper-based secondary confirmation process.  For students whose U.S. citizenship or U.S. national status must be confirmed but who are not able to physically present the documents to the campus may utilize a process “similar” to that initiated in the last couple of years for verification purposes for those selected in Verification Tracking Groups 4 or 5.  The new guidance for documenting citizenship of U.S. citizens and U.S. nationals allows for documenting citizenship status by signing the appropriate accurately completed affidavit in the presence of a notary public who will notarize it.  (A sample affidavit is provided as an attachment to this DCL.)  The student must then submit notarized copies of the citizenship documentation to the school.  The school does not have to submit the documents through secondary confirmation unless it has reason to question the validity of the documents the student provided.  Appropriate record retention must be maintained.  Schools should ensure they have their policies in writing regarding this guidance and that it is included in their policies and procedures.

DCL – GEN-15-09: May 22, 2015 – Title IV Eligibility for Students Without a Valid High School Diploma Who Are Enrolled in Eligible Career Pathway Programs

In this DCL, ED gives clarification of the most recent changes to what has been known as Ability-to-Benefit (ATB) provisions.  Specifically, the changes in the law—the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 (Pub. L. 113-235, also known as “Cromnibus”)—offer an additional option for ATB consideration.   However, the scope of this new ATB alternative is very limited.  It designates that this new avenue for demonstrating ATB is only for students who are not high school graduates, do not meet any other ATB provision, and are enrolled in an eligible career pathway program on or after July 1, 2014.  No prior ATB options were eliminated, only the new career pathways program alternative was added.  This letter also itemizes the most current list of approved ATB tests by test name and publisher.  Finally, this DCL includes the Career Pathway Alternative Pell Grant Disbursement Schedules that are required to be used for students who gain eligibility under the career pathways program ATB designation.  Schools should review this DCL with care to become more familiar with the new ATB option via eligible career pathways programs, as well as the currently approved ATB tests.  Note that, other than the information provided in this DCL, ED has not provided any further detailed explanation as to what constitutes an eligible career pathway program.  FAME has only learned that ED does emphasize the need for the career pathway program to be one that academically connects the adult education component of a program with an otherwise eligible postsecondary program (e.g., Title IV-eligible program).

DCL – GEN-15-11: June 29, 2015 – 2016-2017 Award Year: FAFSA® Information to be Verified and Acceptable Documentation

This DCL is the annual update ED provides that specifies the information that must be verified for the next award year of 2016-2017, as well as the documentation that will be considered acceptable for those purposes.  The DCL is a further itemization and explanation of the required announcement in the Federal Register, which was published on June 26, 2015.  ED notes that the items that may need to be verified in the 2016-2017 award year are the same as those that may need to be verified in the 2015-2016 award year.  Moreover, it is stated that in 2016-2017, no applicant will be assigned to Verification Tracking Group 3 (Child Support Paid Verification Group).  Therefore, the only active Verification Tracking Groups for 2016-2017 will be the V1, V4, V5, and V6 Tracking Groups.  It is clarified, however, that if a student is selected in one of these other verification groups, the appropriate applicants must verify child support paid and SNAP benefits if they are indicated on the applicant’s ISIR.  This DCL is an important one to become familiar with and keep at hand for reference throughout the 2016-2017 award year.  ED publishes this information a year in advance of the award year’s start so that schools may be prepared for the requirements when the year begins.

Federal Registers

FR – Posted May 18, 2015 – Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM):  Program Integrity and Improvement; Proposed Rule (NPRM)Federal Register

The NPRM is titled as dealing with program integrity and improvement, apparently hearkening back to the October 29, 2010 Program Integrity Regulations.  However, as indicated in the description of the corresponding EA related to this NPRM above, the preponderance of the proposed rule is in regard to cash management issues related to third party servicers (primarily, although not entirely, related to the use of debit cards or other “access devices” for use in distributing excess funds resulting from Title IV credit balances on students’ accounts, requiring certain bank accounts, etc.).  There were also proposed changes that would simplify the clock-to-credit hour conversions ever so slightly, as well as proposals regarding simplifying the guidance related to repeated coursework.  Comments were due on July 2, 2015.  As stated earlier, FAME did provide a response to the NPRM.  The final regulations must take into consideration all of the comments received.  If they are to be finalized in time to be effective next July 1, 2016, the final regulations will have to be published by November 1, 2015.

FR – Posted May 27, 2015 – Notice:  Federal Need Analysis Methodology for the 2016-2017 Award Year

This Federal Register (FR) is the annual required notice of necessary changes to the Federal Need Analysis Methodology used in calculating a student’s expected family contribution (EFC) as a result of their FAFSA submission.  In the FR, readers will find background information related to the calculations.  For example, the assumed changes in the Consumer Price Index are stated, as well as the details applicable to the various tables used with the EFC calculation worksheets that are available in the “Application and Verification Guide” volume of the Federal Student Aid Handbook.  This information is useful to those who desire to know how an EFC is calculated and what affects its calculation.

FR – Posted June 9, 2015 – Notice, CORRECTION:  Federal Need Analysis Methodology for the 2016-2017 Award Year – Correction

In this FR, ED provides a correction to a minor error in the previously published FR on May 27, 2015.  The correction is made to the table titled “INDEPENDENT STUDENTS WITH DEPENDENTS OTHER THAN A SPOUSE.”  The table is on page 30220 of the original May 27, 2015, FR.  Naturally, the corrected table data will be used in the 2016-2017 publication of the “Application and Verification Guide”.

FR – Posted June 26, 2015 – Notice:  FAFSA® Information to be Verified for the 2016-2017 Award Year

For those who like to be ahead of the game in preparing for the next award year, ED publishes the data in the FR a year in advance.  This FR stipulates the items that will be required to be reviewed, as well as acceptable documentation, in the verification of FAFSA information submitted by applicants for the 2016-2017 award year.   The FR Notice also lists other sources of detailed discussion about the verification process, such as:

2016–2017 Application and Verification Guide.
2016–2017 ISIR Guide.
2016–2017 SAR Comment Codes and Text.
2016–2017 COD Technical Reference, as well as the
• Program Integrity Information—Questions and Answers on Verification on the IFAP Web site.

Additionally, for more information and discussion on this topic, see the DCL GEN-15-11 which is discussed earlier in this Inside Report.

ED’s 2015-2016 Federal Student Aid Handbook

HandbookED has been busy this past quarter with its work on the 2015-2016 Federal Student Aid Handbook. Several chapters and an errata and update were posted this past quarter.  Specifically, ED has released the 2015-2016:

 

Application and Verification Guide

Volume 1 – Student Eligibility
Volume 3 – Calculating Awards & Packaging
Volume 5 – Withdrawals and the Return of Title IV Funds
Volume 6 – The Campus-Based Programs

Volume 4 – Processing Aid and Managing Funds was previously released in the first quarter of the year.  Only Volume 2 remains to be released for the 2015-2016 edition.

Additionally, two 2015-2016 Federal Student Aid Handbook Errata and Updates were released.  The first of the updates was released on June 24, 2015, and designated changes made in the Application and Verification Guide.  The second update was released on June 29, 2015, in which a new Document Verification Request (G-845) Form was attached for use in secondary confirmations of citizenship status.  Schools should begin to use this new form immediately as the prior version of the G-845 form will no longer be accepted after August 14, 2015.  With this newly released form from the Department of Homeland Security-United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (DHS-USCIS), ED also provided a completely re-written Chapter 2 of Volume 1 of the 2015-2016 Federal Student Aid Handbook.  These updates are available on IFAP, and via the links provided above.

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