The Pounding of the Gavel and the Stroke of a Pen: The Effects of Legislative and Regulatory Changes on NSLDS Enrollment Reporting
It is the iconic symbol of an official meeting’s action. When the gavel comes down, it is done. In the case of a proposed law in the United States, a legislative bill’s passage is affirmed by the gavel’s strike. The bill then awaits the stroke of a pen, the historic presidential pen. Likewise, the regulatory process implements changes. These changes are also brought to life by the stroke of a pen, the Secretary’s pen. For our purposes, it is the signature of the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) that brings life to much discussed language as prescriptive rules.
The recent legislative and regulatory changes of interest today are those related to NSLDS Enrollment Reporting. Formerly, the information now included in NSLDS Enrollment Reporting was called the Student Status Confirmation Report (SSCR). That prior nomenclature had been around for decades. But, with the shift of enrollment reporting to being accomplished via NSLDS vs. the need for direct interaction with private lenders and guarantors for loan repayment purposes only, the name has changed to NSLDS Enrollment Reporting.
The latest legislation that impacts NSLDS Enrollment Reporting is the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (Pub. L. No. 112-141, enacted on July 6, 2012), and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 (Pub. L. No. 113-76, signed into law on January 17, 2014). The effect of the presidential pen on these documents created significant changes to enrollment reporting. Furthering the impact were the implementing regulations of May 16, 2013 and January 17, 2014. Other pertinent final regulations were published on November 1, 2013. These regulations reflected the changes in the law arising from the revisions made to the HEA by the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) included in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (HERA), (Pub. L. 111-152, enacted March 30, 2010).
The changes that impact upon enrollment reporting include the 150% limit of program length on Direct Subsidized Loans for undergraduates, the frequency and manner in which schools report to NSLDS, and the requirement that ED must report to Congress enrollment and graduation information of Federal Pell Grant recipients. Each of these changes affects the reporting process in different ways.
Reporting Requires Additional Data
Naturally, since the 150% Direct Subsidized Loan Limit has been implemented, it necessitates a way to know if and when a student exceeds 150% of the length of the academic program in which the student is enrolled. In order to accomplish this, ED needed a way to know what program the student is in and for how long the student had been in the program in relation to how long the student may have been in that program and other academic programs. This need was met by ED adding the requirement to begin reporting program-level enrollment information. This means that schools now must transmit information about the student’s specific academic program in the enrollment reporting process. Not only is this information reported by academic program, but it is also to be reported by the campus or location level. Therefore, the basic information that is being reported is by student, by campus, and by unique program.
A unique program is defined as the combination of the school’s unique eight-digit OPEID number, the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) code, and the credential level of the program. When reporting, the published length of the program must also be conveyed, along with how it is measured, e.g., years, months, or weeks, etc. The number of weeks in the academic year, as well as the program begin date, enrollment status in the program, and the effective date of the program enrollment status are also required. (Noteworthy is the fact that there is a new enrollment status code of “Q” which is used to indicate a student who is enrolled as a three-quarter-time student.) A school must likewise indicate if the program is one classified as having a “Special Program Indicator.” These special programs are identified in regulation and relate specifically to certain selective admission associate degree programs and bachelor’s degree completion programs. Other possible circumstances requiring a Special Program Indicator include students who take required preparatory coursework for entrance into an undergraduate or graduate/professional program.
The campus-level enrollment data includes such facts as the basic student demographic data, the enrollment status and effective date, the OPEID and any change to another OPEID (e.g., a student transfers), the begin and end date of the enrollment period, and anticipated completion date. This campus-level information is similar to what has been reported in the past, with the exception of the addition of reporting the OPEID of another institution to which the student may have transferred.
The 150% Direct Subsidized Loan Limit affects not only how long a student is able to receive Subsidized Direct Loans, but also whether or not a student is able to retain the interest subsidy on prior Direct Loans received. Therefore, in the new NSLDS Enrollment Reporting it is crucial that schools accurately and timely report the effective date of whether a student is Withdrawn (“W”) or Graduated (“G”). Improper reporting may negatively impact a student’s ability to retain interest subsidy.
Reporting and Implementation of New Data File Layouts
ED has announced that effective April 14, 2014, schools may begin enrollment reporting utilizing the new data requirements online directly at the NSLDS Professional Access (NSLDSFAP) Web site. Schools are currently allowed to utilize the new data reporting format or the old/current historical format until October 1, 2014. As of October 1, 2014, all schools that may use the NSLDS Professional Access Web site must utilize the new reporting requirement format.
Schools that report via batch reporting or spreadsheet uploading may begin utilizing the new enrollment roster file layouts on July 1, 2014. Schools will have to indicate their preference on NSLDSFAP to utilize the new formats. At that point, NSLDS will forward to the school or third party servicer its enrollment reporting rosters in the new file layout format. (NOTE: For FAME processing clients, FAME will report the newly required program-level information for the schools as long as the school has all in formation appropriately and accurately entered related to the student and his or her enrollment.)
Not later than October 1, 2014, all NSLDS Enrollment Reporting must be done in compliance with the new record file layouts specified, regardless of method of reporting.
Reporting Frequency Changed
Schools have had substantial flexibility in the frequency of reporting in the past. Under the new NSLDS Enrollment Reporting requirements, schools will now be obliged to report at least once every 60 days. This is in contrast to the previous requirement to report at least semi-annually. When reporting, the school must respond to the roster files received from NSLDS within 15 days of when the roster was sent to the school or its third-party servicer. This change in frequency is effective July 1, 2014. Although schools may delay implementation of reporting using the new file record layouts until October 1, 2014, the frequency with which a school must report is changed to be 60 days effective July 1, 2014 regardless of whether the new file formats have been yet implemented. Schools must ensure they review their operations to ensure timely response to the enrollment roster files within 15 calendar days of the roster date. Also of importance regarding the timeliness of reporting is when NSLDS may identify an error. Schools must correct any errors identified by NSLDS within 10 business days of notification. Finally, it is important for schools to remember the significance of reporting enrollment changes. As ED has stated it, “report enrollment changes early and often.”[i] Such changes that may need to be made include: changes in the student’s program of study, campus location, or in campus-level or program-level enrollment status. Schools may choose to report more frequently than the required reporting every 60 days, and may also make ad-hoc updates to students’ enrollment information.
The effect of improper, inaccurate, or untimely reporting can have significant consequences upon students and schools. Students see the impact in their continued eligibility for Subsidized Direct Loans, or the retention of interest subsidy on prior loans. Schools will notice the impact, and accompanying consequences, in annual audits and in Federal program reviews. These new NSLDS Enrollment Reporting requirements undoubtedly will be a focus of audits and program reviews in the near future. Schools are encouraged to review the Dear Colleague Letter GEN-14-07 and the new NSLDS Enrollment Reporting Guide released in ED’s Electronic Announcement dated April 25, 2014 on IFAP. A thorough plan of action should be implemented by each school to accommodate the new requirements to ensure compliance.
As is readily apparent from the information shared above, the striking of the gavel and the stroke of the pen created significant implications on schools and how they do business. In this case, the specific impact is on enrollment reporting, but touches on many aspects of a school’s internal operations.
[i] NSLDS Enrollment Reporting Guide, page 37; April 2014.