Sailing on the ocean is a wonderful thing. There is the vast expanse of the horizon that is in view, and the gentle rocking of the waves that calm the soul. But, it is a totally different picture when a major weather event comes on scene. No longer is the view as expansive or the waves as gentle. Clouds block the horizon and the surface gets rough and unsettling. That is the way it sometimes happens in financial aid. Things are going smoothly as you think you have all things appropriately in view. You have completed the first round of gainful employment (GE) reporting, and you are enjoying the gentle scene until the next round of reporting is due. Then, all of a sudden, another GE gale arrives and you wonder if you will be sailing on the Sea of Confusion or Consternation instead of the Sea of Clarity and Calm. Just when you thought you had it all figured out and put to rest for a while…GE comes to the fore once more!
The latest GE information presented by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) appeared as Gainful Employment Announcement #58 on August 10, 2015. Its subject line immediately catches the reader’s attention. With a self-evident title of “NSLDS Reporting for Gainful Employment Programs Discontinued Prior to the Effective Date of the Regulations,” one’s mind immediately begins wondering. Did I miss something? Do I need to worry about this? Interestingly, this Electronic Announcement may be of importance to more than a few.
Back in January of 2015, ED conducted two sessions of a Webinar that was titled, “Gainful Employment Reporting to NSLDS Webinar.” The dates of the Webinar were January 13 and 15, 2015. During this presentation ED staff indicated that schools would only be reporting on GE programs that were in existence as of July 1, 2015, which was the effective date of the GE regulations. Specifically, on slide #16 of the presentation deck,1 it is stated that schools are to “ONLY submit data for programs that exist as of July 1, 2015.” This is in concert with the January 15, 2015, transcript of the recording of the presentation which states on page 9 that: “You will only be reporting data on programs that exist as of July of this year. So if you had a program that was in existence going back to 2008/2009 but you deactivated the program – it’s no longer active as of July 1 of this year – you would not report data on students in that program. You would not report that program.” Then, a repeated emphasis of this point was given later in the question and answer segment of the presentation’s recording. On page 59 of the transcript it was stressed: “I’d like to clarify for folks once again that you’re only reporting students who are title four [sic] aid recipients and also students who are in gainful employment programs where those gainful employment programs exist or are being offered as of July 1st 2015.”2
Similarly, the transcript of the presentation on January 13, 2015, also highlighted the programs for which data was to be reported. On page 8 of that date’s transcript ED staff are recorded to stipulate: “And again you’re going to [sic] reporting data for programs that were in existence as of July 1, 2015 [sic] so if you had GE programs that were in effect in 2008-’09 or ’09-’10 but you no longer have those programs as operating programs, then you would not report those programs.”3 So, most financial aid administrators thought they were sailing on the Sea of Clarity, skirting along the edges of the Sea of Calm.
But, alas! After the first GE reporting due date (July 31, 2015) for the batch of data in the required series of years, we find that perhaps the compass was not appropriately calibrated and the ship wound up on the Sea of Confusion with a stream of the waters of the Sea of Consternation mixing in! The August 10, 2015, GE Electronic Announcement (EA) #58 is provided to clarify what we thought was already clear. Thus, we shoot a new azimuth to ensure we hit the destination of accurate compliance.
The new EA explains what is meant when a program has been “discontinued.” ED’s guidance specifies that a program’s discontinuation date is based upon two potential events. The program is discontinued as of the date that the program is no longer offered to any students (new or continuing students), or the date the institution notifies ED via its E-App that it no longer wants the program to be considered Title IV-eligible. Schools are required to notify ED via the E-App when it is no longer offering a Title IV-eligible program.
If a GE program was discontinued and not offered for a three-year period prior to the effective date of the GE regulations (July 1, 2015), then the school does not have to report data for those programs. That is, for programs that were discontinued prior to July 1, 2012, data does not have to be submitted. However, if a program was discontinued on or after July 1, 2012, and before July 1, 2015, the school still must report data for any years from 2008-2009 through 2013-2014 in which students enrolled in those programs received Title IV aid. ED provides a very brief explanation as to why the 3-year period is utilized. It is consistent with the same time period referenced in 34 CFR 668.410(b). This is the time period after which a program can be offered with the potential for Title IV eligibility without regard to its prior history under the GE measures.
If you had thought you were on the Seas of Calm and Clarity, but have now found that you are on a cruise across the Sea of Consternation after Confusion, it may be time to reassess your bearings. If you had Title IV-eligible programs that were discontinued on or after July 1, 2012, and before July 1, 2015, for which you did not previously report the applicable GE data, it is time to do a reset. Although the July 31, 2015, deadline for GE reporting is passed, ED has stated that schools should still immediately report data for any programs previously omitted. ED will soon be sending letters to the presidents of those institutions that have not reported, or that inappropriately reported (or omitted) data for GE programs. Thus, it is crucial that schools who missed reporting for some programs submit the required data now.
1 Gainful Employment Reporting to NSLDS Webinar – January 2015; U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid.
2 Transcripts for “Gainful Employment Reporting to NSLDS (January 15, 2015, Webinar)”; U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid.
3 Transcripts for “Gainful Employment Reporting to NSLDS (January 13, 2015, Webinar)”; U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid.
This material is presented for informational and educational purposes only and should not be considered to be giving legal advice.