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FAME Post-Conference Update

April 27, 2016
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Attendance Monitoring and Charges for Absences or Being Tardy

FAME recently completed its 2016 FAME Annual Financial Aid and Management Conference.  A question arose shortly before the conference for which guidance had been received from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) related to the appropriate response.

The Question about Fees or Fines for Absences or Being Tardy

A question arose inquiring whether a school could assess fees or fines to a student for being late to class or for being absent from class, and have Title IV funds cover those fines or fees.  In our dialog with the U.S. Department of Education (ED), their initial response was that fees or fines a school assesses a student that are not required of all students in the program, would be considered non-institutional charges, and therefore, not included in a Return to Title IV Funds (R2T4) calculation, similar to library fines or parking fines, etc.  As with library or parking fines, ED indicated that, with the appropriate written student authorization, Title IV funds could be utilized to pay such charges as a fine or fee for being tardy or absent.  They would not be considered the same as a registration or lab fee that is required of all students (which is considered an institutional charge), and thus, a school is not required to obtain a specific student authorization for crediting Title IV funds  to cover those specific charges (i.e., registration or lab fees.)

You may have heard some mention of this guidance in a session or two at our FAME Conference held April 13-15, 2016.  However, the response initially received from ED was not sitting well with our staff and questions remained. It did not seem like there should be any difference in how charges for being tardy or absent were treated in comparison to overtime charges—which have been clearly prohibited—since whether tardy or absent, it will likely result in the student needing to extend beyond the originally scheduled program end date.  Additional charges of fines or fees assessed for being absent or tardy does not comport with the provision of the Higher Education Act, Sec. 472, that says charges may be included as part of the cost of attendance (COA) and, thus charges for which Title IV funds could be used, if they are part of the tuition and fees normally assessed for a student carrying the same academic workload.  As a result, immediately after the conference we pursued the matter further with ED and requested clarification and/or confirmation of the earlier indication of guidance received.

 

ED’s Latest Guidance on Fees or Fines Assessed to Students for Absences or Being Tardy

We have now received further clarification and guidance on the topic of using Title IV funds to cover any fees or fines assessed a student for being tardy or absent during their program.  To ensure a clear communication of ED’s response, we are pasting it in below:

In checking with ED Policy they indicated the following in reference to (prior) guidance … – it would appear that these late or tardy fines are not permitted to be covered by Title IV funds –

“…the (guidance received previously), ha(s) to be viewed in the proper context.  The (prior) question from FAME involves scheduled clinical days which students might fail to show up for. Clinical experience is a specific and necessary part of medically-related programs that occurs at a prescribed time. Clinical hours are normally conducted at medical facilities outside of the school such as hospitals, and involve specialized personnel being present.  Unlike with regular class time, make-up hours for clinical experience can be difficult to schedule and may involve considerable additional expense.  Accordingly, (the earlier) 2007 email does, I think, provide supportable guidance on a specific issue, the scope of which is limited to that issue.

This guidance, however, was not intended as a blanket approval to use Title IV funds  for fines related to non-attendance and should not be viewed in that way.  First, a student’s general nonattendance on certain days is pretty much a given possibility. Program rules, at least those related to non-term programs, account for this; payment periods do not end until the requisite number of hours have been completed (regardless of how long this takes in calendar time) and we permit excused absences.  The structure of most clock-hour and credit-hour non-term programs will accommodate students’ occasional nonattendance.  Instructors are present each day and several cohorts of students are generally attending concurrently, such that making up regular hours is not difficult.  Chronic nonattendance is, of course, more serious.  But most schools have policies requiring such students be withdrawn when nonattendance reaches a certain point.  Even if that happens, R2T4 rules permit retaining aid based on scheduled, (versus) attended hours.  Second, as you point out, the fines are a tacit overtime charge which, per (other prior) guidance, is not permitted.”

Bottom-line is that policy has stated the (prior) guidance would not apply and that these late fines were akin to overtime charges (charges above and beyond the normal cost of the program assessed all students).

“It seems like FAME was on the right track.  Thanks for pushing back.”

We trust that this latest written guidance from ED is clear.  Title IV funds may not be used to cover fines or fees charged to a student for being tardy for, or absent from, class.  Such charges are viewed by ED as being tacitly considered the same as overtime charges which are strictly prohibited.

Should you have any additional questions regarding this clarification of ED guidance, please feel free to contact Customer Service through the Client Solution Center.

(ED EM 04202016)

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This material is presented for informational and educational purposes only and should not be considered to be giving legal advice.

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