U.S. Department of Education Announces Opportunity for Federal Student Loan Borrowers to be Reconsidered for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

The U.S. Department of Education (Department) has launched a process for federal student loan borrowers to be reconsidered for loan forgiveness under a temporary expansion of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program.

This limited opportunity— which the Department is referring to as Temporary Expanded PSLF (TEPSLF)— was made possible by a $350-million appropriation through the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018. The law provides additional conditions under which borrowers may become eligible for loan forgiveness if some or all of their payments made on William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program loans were made on a nonqualifying repayment plan for the PSLF Program. This opportunity is only available on a first-come, first-served basis until the $350 million has been allocated or other criteria are met.

The Department will reconsider eligibility for the TEPSLF opportunity using an expanded list of qualifying repayment plans, which includes the Graduated Repayment Plan, Extended Repayment Plan, Consolidated Standard Repayment Plan, and Consolidated Graduated Repayment Plan. Funds for this opportunity are limited, and borrowers will be considered on a first come, first serve basis. Once funds under this opportunity are depleted or other criteria are met, the program will end.

In order to qualify for the TEPSLF opportunity, a borrower must have done the following:

  • Submitted the Public Service Loan Forgiveness: Application for Forgiveness and had that application denied because some or all of the payments were not made under a qualifying repayment plan for PSLF
  • Worked at least 10 years of full-time employment with a qualifying employer, certified by the employer, and approved by the Department
  • Made 120 qualifying monthly payments under the new requirements for the TEPSLF opportunity while working full-time for a qualifying employer or employers

Borrowers who believe they may qualify for the TEPSLF opportunity should email a request for reconsideration to TEPSLF@MyFedLoan.org.

To learn more about this opportunity and how to apply, visit StudentAid.gov/tepslf.

This article was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

U.S. Department of Education Expands Focus on Enforcement and Consumer Protections for Students, Parents and Borrowers

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced a stronger approach to how Federal Student Aid (FSA) enforces compliance by institutions participating in the Federal student aid programs by creating stronger consumer protections for students, parents and borrowers against “bad actors.” FSA is an office within the U.S. Department of Education.

“Protecting students has always been my top priority,” said Secretary DeVos. “This new approach will enhance our efforts on our oversight responsibilities, including enforcement against bad actors, such as illegitimate debt relief organizations, schools defrauding students and institutions willfully ignoring their Clery Act responsibilities.”

Dr. A. Wayne Johnson, the new chief operating officer at FSA, recently began transforming the oversight function—broadening its scope, increasing its capacity and adopting a more sophisticated strategy—while adding several key senior executives to help lead and implement a more comprehensive, broader approach to the oversight of the federal student aid programs.

“FSA recognizes that there are many quality institutions that participate in the Federal student aid programs, along with many third-party service providers that are committed to effectively administering and operating the programs,” said Dr. Johnson. “But FSA has an obligation to ensure that any organization affiliated with these programs understands its responsibilities and complies with Federal student aid statutes, regulations and other related consumer protection laws.”

“We will not allow bad actors to harm students, parents, borrowers and taxpayers,” Dr. Johnson continued. “We will enforce what is right for students at every turn of their student aid life cycle, regardless of whether they are applying for, receiving or repaying aid.”

Under Dr. Johnson’s direction, FSA has established an integrated system of complementary oversight functions to ensure compliance by all participating parties. Under this approach, oversight begins with proactive risk management to identify and mitigate risks before they pose a threat. These efforts are bolstered by comprehensive communications and executive outreach to ensure parties and their leadership understand their responsibilities, the consequences of non-compliance and appropriate remedies.

“We have amplified our outreach to program participants to ensure they understand these rules and their status,” said Dr. Johnson. “If we determine parties are out of compliance, we will use the authority delegated to the Secretary—and in turn to Federal Student Aid—to do right by students, borrowers and taxpayers, including bringing them into compliance or, if necessary, revoking their eligibility to participate in the student aid programs.”

To support this work, FSA has added several new leaders across the organization in the areas of enforcement, outreach, communications, and risk management who bring a wealth of expertise to FSA and augment the experienced and committed staff already in place.

Dr. Michael Dean is joining FSA as the chief enterprise risk officer. He will lead the team that proactively identifies, assesses and monitors risks enterprise-wide, including fraud-, cybersecurity- and compliance-related risks. Dr. Dean’s team works with senior leaders across FSA to effectively manage risks in order to fulfill FSA’s mission.

The critical work of FSA’s compliance office will continue to be led by career veteran Chief Compliance Officer Robin Minor. Her team of nearly 400 oversight professionals monitors schools’ and other financial institutions’ compliance with Title IV laws and regulations. The compliance group conducts hundreds of institutional program reviews, resolves audits and performs other activities each year. The team will be working to communicate more frequently and proactively with schools and other institutions to enable these organizations to more quickly learn of the status of reviews and audit resolutions, as well as address any identified deficiencies more efficiently.

Dr. Charles Patterson is joining FSA as the senior advisor for executive-level compliance and enforcement outreach. He will focus on communications with leaders at colleges and universities, as well as on outreach to university systems; higher education organizations; and other federal, state and local stakeholders with a shared interest in protecting students, parents, and borrowers.

Dr. Julian Schmoke, Jr. is joining FSA to lead enforcement activities. In addition to a track record of successfully advocating for students for more than 20 years, he brings experience in higher education leadership, instruction and accreditation, including serving in an academic capacity at DeVry University, where he ensured the delivery of a quality education to students. Dr. Schmoke will lead a team focused on identifying, investigating and adjudicating statutory and regulatory violations of the federal student aid programs and on resolving borrower defense claims. Additionally, the team led by Dr. Schmoke will play a central role in coordinating efforts to prevent third-party companies associated with student aid programs from harming students, parents and borrowers.

Chris Greene is returning to FSA to head the communications, outreach and customer experience teams. He brings nearly 20 years of student aid, government and communications experience to the organization and will be responsible for ensuring that FSA’s communications infrastructure serves the needs of all stakeholders.

FSA will continue to offer in-person and web-based technical assistance to schools and will continue providing information, training and early intervention support directly to financial aid professionals to help schools meet their compliance obligations.

FSA’s proactive work will continue to be informed by customer input—including, complaints and allegations of suspicious activity through the FSA feedback system, available at StudentAid.gov/feedback—and supported by coordination with other stakeholders, including accrediting bodies, the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice.

This article was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

New Analysis Finds Many For-Profits Skirt Federal Funding Limits

New analysis released today by the U.S. Department of Education reveals many for-profit schools would likely exceed the 90/10 federal funding limits if revenue from Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) programs were included in the 90/10 calculation the same way Title IV funds are included. The annual 90/10 report also released today finds 17 for-profit colleges out of compliance with existing federal funding limits.

New estimates by the VA and DOD found that by counting VA’s Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits as federal aid, the number of schools receiving at least 90 percent of their revenue from federal education programs would jump from 17 to nearly 200. The total federal aid dollars administered by schools that rely on federal funds for more than 90 percent of their total revenues would increase from approximately $80 million to an estimated $8 billion. This analysis considers revenue reported by institutions for institutional fiscal years ending during the 2013-14 award year.

Currently, for proprietary institutions participating in Federal student aid programs, no more than 90 percent of revenue can come from Title IV Federal student loans and grants. The long-standing 90/10 rule requires that for-profit institutions derive at least 10 percent of their revenue from non-Title IV student aid programs to show that institutions can attract funding from sources other than solely from the federal government, as a proxy for quality. However, because of a statutory loophole, the 90/10 rule does not count GI Bill educational benefits administered by the VA and DOD Tuition Assistance program as federal funding.

“These benefits were created in recognition of the selfless sacrifices made by our veterans and servicemembers, not to make them a target for predatory businesses,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.

The loophole has created a well-documented incentive for certain for-profit institutions to target eligible servicemembers, veterans, and their families in an effort to more easily meet the 10 percent non-federal aid requirement. Holly Petraeus, the Assistant Director for Service Member Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, described this loophole as causing for-profit colleges to see servicemembers as nothing more than “dollar signs in uniform.”

“These findings shine a light on the institutions skirting the 90/10 Rule by relying on the hard-earned education benefits awarded to servicemembers,” said U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell. “Closing the 90/10 loophole would remove the incentive for-profit schools have for recruiting veterans and servicemembers aggressively for programs that may not serve them well.”

To protect America’s troops and veterans from targeting by predatory institutions, the President’s Budget has proposed including all Federal educational aid programs, including veteran and servicemember aid and reverting the 90 percent benchmark back to the original 85 percent in the calculation. If the threshold were lowered, analysis shows that the number of failing schools in a single year would increase from 17 to 563 schools that receive combined federal aid totaling $12.6 billion.

In November, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum aimed at strengthening the Federal Government’s work in promoting fair practices by education institutions that serve servicemembers, veterans, eligible spouses, and other family members. The Memorandum directed the Department of Education, DOD, VA as well as the Department of Justice to establish an enforcement subcommittee focused on improving the handling of servicemember and veteran-student complaints; deterring false or misleading advertising by educational institutions or others concerning their education benefits; advancing protocols for removing non-compliant schools from the Principles of Excellence, or developing other appropriate measures to protect the integrity and accuracy of information about this initiative; and developing a common set of early-warning protocols and accountability measures to improve performance by educational institutions on behalf of servicemembers and veterans.

Annual 90/10 Reports Reveals 17 For-Profit College As Out of Compliance

A report released today identifies 17 for-profit colleges that derived more than 90 percent of their annual total revenue from federal Title IV student aid dollars based on audits completed during the 2014-2015 award year, placing each in violation of the 90/10 Rule. Two of the 17 schools, Pat Wilson’s Beauty College and United Medical and Business Institute, missed the required ratio for two consecutive years and effective January and July 2015, respectively, lost eligibility to participate in Title IV federal student aid programs for at least two years.

If a school is found in violation of the rule for two consecutive award years, it becomes ineligible to participate in Title IV federal student aid programs for at least two fiscal years. Fifteen of the 17 institutions found in violation of the rule will remain eligible on a provisional basis because they satisfied the 90/10 rule for the institution’s previous fiscal year. After these institutions submit their next financial statement audits, the Department will determine if the remaining 15 institutions are eligible for continued participation in federal student aid programs.

The full report includes detailed information about the amount and percentage of each for-profit institution’s revenues from Title IV sources and non-Title IV sources.

Ensuring Servicemembers Receive the Benefits they Deserve

In March, Secretary King directed federal loan servicers to review borrower accounts dating back to 2008 and automatically provide credit to any eligible servicemember who had not already received lower federal loan interest rates in accordance with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Loan servicers have made significant progress in their reviews and in providing these credits. As of December 2016, approximately 113,000 borrowers have been identified as eligible for lowered interest rates. To date, roughly 83,000 adjustments have been completed and an estimated $4 million will be returned to eligible borrowers.

Since May, 2014, federal loan servicers have been required to actively identify borrowers eligible for SCRA benefits through an online database. The eligibility check will ensure the eligible servicemembers receive the interest rate benefit automatically.

At the request of members of Congress, the Department commissioned an independent audit to evaluate federal loan servicer Navient’s compliance in awarding SCRA benefits to eligible servicemembers who requested those benefits between June 2009 and May 2014. The audit found that Navient complied in all material respects with applicable SCRA requirements and that isolated incidents of improper denial of benefits had since been retroactively remediated.

Protecting All Students from Abusive Career Colleges

The Department has taken unprecedented steps to protect students and provide them with opportunities for a high-quality, affordable education that prepares them for their careers, including:

  • Implementing the Gainful Employment rules to protect students and taxpayers and to ensure students receive an education that leads to good job prospects;
  • Publishing the final borrower defense regulations to ensure borrowers who are defrauded receive the relief to which they are entitled under the HEA;
  • Strengthening oversight and compliance of the career college industry in collaboration with other federal agencies; and
  • Announcing executive actions and legislative proposals to advance transparency and increased-rigor in the accreditation process.

This article was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Charlotte School of Law Denied Continued Access to Federal Student Aid Dollars

The U.S. Department of Education today announced that on Dec. 31, 2016, it will end access to federal student financial aid for Charlotte School of Law (CSL), a for-profit member institution in the InfiLaw System. This action furthers the Department’s commitment to vigorously protect students, safeguard taxpayer dollars, and increase institutional accountability among postsecondary institutions.

Following a review of the relevant information, the Department concluded that CSL’s non-compliance with the fundamental standards set by its accreditor, the American Bar Association (ABA), resulted in its violation of the Higher Education Act, the Department’s regulations, and CSL’s Program Participation Agreement with the Department. Additionally, the Department concluded that CSL made substantial misrepresentations to current and prospective students regarding the nature and extent of its accreditation and the likelihood that its graduates would pass the bar exam. Both findings merit denial of the school’s request for continued participation in the federal student aid programs.

“The ABA repeatedly found that the Charlotte School of Law does not prepare students for participation in the legal profession. Yet CSL continuously misrepresented itself to current and prospective students as hitting the mark,” said U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell. “CSL’s actions were misleading and dishonest. We can no longer allow them continued access to federal student aid.”

On Nov. 14, 2016, the ABA announced that CSL was placed on probation, citing the school’s non-compliance with several standards necessary to maintain its accreditation with the ABA, including the requirements of:

  • Maintaining a rigorous program of legal education that prepares its students, upon graduation, for admission to the bar and for effective, ethical, and responsible participation as members of the legal profession;
  • Maintaining sound admission policies that are consistent with the school’s mission, and the objectives of the school’s program of legal education; and,
  • Refraining from admitting applicants who do not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar.

The ABA first informed CSL of its non-compliance in February 2016, and did so again in July 2016. On both occasions, the school failed to disclose this finding to current and prospective students, despite its admission that the information would have a profound impact on their enrollment decisions. Instead, CSL continued to represent itself as in full compliance with the ABA’s standards. The ABA afforded CSL two opportunities to provide evidence and oral testimony of its compliance with the ABA’s standards. On both occasions, the ABA affirmed its determination of CSL’s non-compliance, and in October 2016 placed CSL on probation. When considering the school’s request for recertification, the Department considered these and other facts and made an informed judgment about the institution’s administrative capability and performance as a fiduciary of federal funds.

Today’s action denies CSL’s request to be recertified to continue its participation in the federal student aid programs. Effective Dec. 31, 2016, CSL’s participation in those programs will end, and beginning Jan. 1, 2017, students may no longer use federal student aid to attend the school.

During the 2015-16 award year, CSL enrolled 946 federal aid recipients and received approximately $48.5 million in federal student aid funds, primarily federal student loans. CSL has until Jan. 3, 2017 to submit evidence to dispute the Department’s findings.

Over the last three fiscal years, the Department has denied recertification applications for more than 40 institutions, including Marinello Schools of Beauty, Computer Systems Institute, and Medtech College.

This article was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

Education Department Announces Final Rule on State Authorization of Postsecondary Distance Education, Foreign Locations

The U.S. Department of Education today released final regulations to improve oversight and protect more than 5.5 million distance education students at degree-granting institutions including nearly 3 million exclusively online students by clarifying the state authorization requirements for postsecondary distance education.

To ensure that institutions offering distance education are legally authorized and monitored by states, as required by the Higher Education Act, the final regulations clarify state authorization requirements for institutions to participate in the Department’s federal student aid programs. The regulations also address state and federal oversight of American colleges operating in foreign locations worldwide.

“We’re proud that these regulations build on good ideas from stakeholders across the nation that balance accountability and flexibility for institutions as they seek to better serve students and taxpayers,” said U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell.

In 2006, Congress abolished a rule restricting access to federal student aid for distance education programs. Since then, the number of students enrolled in online degree programs has significantly increased.  By 2014, more than half of students at for-profit institutions were enrolled in exclusively distance education courses, compared with an estimated 9 percent of students in public institutions and 15 percent of students in private nonprofit institutions.

State authorization is a longstanding requirement in the Higher Education Act that requires institutions to be authorized in the state in which they are located as a condition for eligibility to receive Title IV Federal student aid.  While all higher education institutions must have state authorization in the states in which they are physically located, there are no federal regulations for distance education providers in states where the institutions are not located. 

The final regulations close this loophole by:

  • Requiring institutions offering distance education or correspondence courses to be authorized by each state in which the institution enrolls students, if such authorization is required by the state. The regulation recognizes authorization through participation in a state authorization reciprocity agreement, as long as the agreement does not prevent a state from enforcing its own laws. 
  • Requiring institutions to document the state process for resolving student complaints regarding distance education programs.
  • Requiring public and individualized disclosures to enrolled and prospective students in distance education programs, including adverse actions taken against the school, the school’s refund policies, and whether each program meets applicable state licensure or certification requirements.  The regulation will also require schools to explain to students the consequences of moving to a state where the school is not authorized, which could include loss of eligibility for federal student aid.
  • Requiring that foreign branch campuses or locations be authorized by the appropriate foreign government agency and, if at least half of a program can be completed at the foreign location or branch campus, be approved by the accrediting agency and reported to the state where the main campus is located.

The Department received 139 comments from postsecondary institutions and associations, distance education advocates, student and consumer advocacy groups, and State attorneys general.  These comments concerned various provisions in the proposed rule (e.g., state authorization reciprocity agreements, state authorization, consumer complaint systems, and consumer disclosures), and the final rule reflects consideration of these comments and perspectives. 

The Department previously regulated on state authorization of both physical locations and distance education in 2010, but a federal court vacated the distance education portion of the rule on procedural grounds in 2011.  The other portions of the 2010 state authorization rule relating to physical locations were implemented last year.  Similar to the final rule, the 2010 physical locations rule also required institutions to be authorized by states having a state-based consumer complaint system.

These final regulations further a longstanding regulatory effort by the Department to support state oversight of schools that offer distance or correspondence education and protect students in those programs.

The final regulations will be published in the Federal Register on Dec. 19.

This article was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

U.S. Department of Education Levies Historic Fine Against Penn State Over Handling of Sexual Misconduct Incidents

The U.S. Department of Education today announced that it is seeking to impose on Penn State University a record fine of nearly $2.4 million for failing to comply with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act after a comprehensive review prompted by on-campus sex offenses involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

The penalty – the largest ever assessed for Clery violations – covers 11 serious findings of Clery Act noncompliance related to the University’s handling of Sandusky’s crimes and the university’s longstanding failure to comply with federal requirements on campus safety and substance abuse. Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of sexually abusing several young boys over multiple years, including several incidents on campus.

“For colleges and universities to be safe spaces for learning and self-development, institutions must ensure student safety – a part of which is being transparent about incidents on their campuses. Disclosing this information is the law,” said U.S. Education Under Secretary Ted Mitchell. “When we determine that an institution is not upholding this obligation, then there must be consequences.”

Under the Clery Act, colleges and universities must report to the public each year the number of criminal offenses on campus and report that information to the Department which provides it to the public. In addition, in certain cases, the institution must issue a timely warning if a reported crime represents a threat to the campus community.  The institution must also have campus crime and security policies in a number of areas and disclose those polices to their students and employees.

Soon after Sandusky was indicted in November 2011, the Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid launched an investigation of Penn State’s compliance with the Clery Act. The investigation, officially known as a campus crime program review, looked at the university’s compliance from 1998 to 2011 because the allegations of abuse covered that 14-year span.

Findings:

  • Finding #1:  Clery Act violations related to the Sandusky matter (proposed fine: $27,500).
  • Finding #2:  Lack of administrative capability as a result of the University’s substantial failures to comply with the Clery Act and the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act throughout the review period, including insufficient training, support, and resources to ensure compliance (proposed fine: $27,500).
  • Finding #3:  Omitted and/or inadequate annual security report and annual fire safety report policy statements (proposed fine: $37,500).
  • Finding #4:  Failure to issue timely warnings in accordance with federal regulations.
  • Finding #5:  Failure to properly classify reported incidents and disclose crime statistics from 2008-2011 (proposed fine: $2,167,500).
  • Finding #6:  Failure to establish an adequate system for collecting crime statistics from all required sources (proposed fine: $27,500).
  • Finding #7:  Failure to maintain an accurate and complete daily crime log.
  • Finding #8:  Reporting discrepancies in crime statistics published in the annual security report and those reported to the department’s campus crime statistics database (proposed fine: $27,500).
  • Finding #9:   Failure to publish and distribute an annual security report in accordance with federal regulations (proposed fine: $27,500).
  • Finding #10: Failure to notify prospective students and employees of the availability of the annual security report and annual fire safety report (proposed fine: $27,500).
  • Finding #11: Failure to comply with the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (proposed fine: $27,500).

Penn State responded to each of the Department’s findings. After a careful analysis of the university’s response, the Department sustained all findings.

The Clery Act was passed by Congress in 1990, requiring colleges and universities participating in federal financial aid programs to track and disclose information about crime on or near campus. The Department is required by law to conduct periodic reviews of an institution’s compliance with the Clery Act. These reviews may be initiated when a complaint is received, a media event raises concerns, a school’s independent audit identifies areas of noncompliance, or other reasons.

Until now, the previous highest fine was in 2007 when FSA assessed a fine of $357,500 against Eastern Michigan Universityfor violations of the Clery Act. Under a settlement, Eastern Michigan paid a fine of $350,000.

Campus crime statistics can be found at the Department’s Campus Safety and Security database. For more information, see The Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting 2016 Edition and the Department’s Campus Security website.

This article was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.