Distance Education Program Compliance Requirements and COVID-19

The August 2020 release of the Office of Management and Budget’s 2 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 200, Appendix XI (Compliance Supplement) includes an increased focus on distance education program compliance requirements. According to the Compliance Supplement, “a distance education course is a course offered to students who are separated from the instructor and involves regular and substantive interaction between students and the instructor. Such courses are offered via: (1) the internet; (2) open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite or wireless communication devices; (3) audio conferencing; and (4) video cassettes, DVDs and CD-ROMs if these are offered in conjunction with any previously offered methods (34 CFR 600.2).”

The Compliance Supplement focuses on requirements related to program accreditation, and student participation. “Institutions must have been evaluated and accredited for its effective delivery of distance education” by a recognized accrediting agency. “An institution must demonstrate that a student participated in class or was otherwise engaged in an academically related activity, such as by contributing to an online discussion or initiating contact with a faculty member to ask a course-related question” to achieve compliance. It is not sufficient for an institution document that “a student has logged into an online” class to prove student participation. “All Title IV funds disbursed to students attending these programs must be reported as questioned costs” if an institution is unable to substantiate compliance with either requirement.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many institutions have been anticipating the possibility of moving substantially all students off campus, and transitioning to online programs. The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) released information related to these programs in a series of letters between March and June of 2020 that provided “broad approval to institutions to use online technologies to accommodate students without going through the regular approval process.” Additionally, the DOE is “permitting accreditors to wave their distance education review requirements for institutions working to accommodate students whose enrollment is otherwise interrupted as a result of COVID-19.”  The DOE has also lowered the bar when it comes to institutions’ responsibility to document student attendance. To meet the DOE’s “requirements for providing distance education, an institution must communicate to students through one of several types of technology, including email,” and “instructors must initiate substantive communication with students, either individually or collectively, on a regular basis.”  The DOE has made these provisions effective “through the end of the academic year that includes December 31, 2020, or the end date for the COVID-19 Federally declared emergency, whichever occurs later.”

Institutions are experiencing a variety of results across the nation in response to their attempts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on campuses, and there is still substantial uncertainty as to what the Spring 2021 semester will look like. Institutions should consider the risks related to online programs as they react to changing circumstances, and plan for 2021. There has been no guarantee that the provisions listed in the DOE COVID-19 emergency response will extend past December 31, 2020. If the provisions lapse, institutions will be required to be accredited to offer distance education programs, and will be subject to the compliance requirements in the August 2020 Compliance Supplement for the Spring 2021 semester. Any non-compliance will result in questioned costs. 

If you have questions about Distance Education Program compliance requirements, contact your subject matter experts at Schneider Downs.

You’ve heard our thoughts… We’d like to hear yours

The Schneider Downs Our Thoughts On blog exists to create a dialogue on issues that are important to organizations and individuals. While we enjoy sharing our ideas and insights, we’re especially interested in what you may have to say. If you have a question or a comment about this article – or any article from the Our Thoughts On blog – we hope you’ll share it with us. After all, a dialogue is an exchange of ideas, and we’d like to hear from you. Email us at contactSD@schneiderdowns.com.

Material discussed is meant for informational purposes only, and it is not to be construed as investment, tax, or legal advice. Please note that individual situations can vary. Therefore, this information should be relied upon when coordinated with individual professional advice.

© 2020 Schneider Downs. All rights-reserved. All content on this site is property of Schneider Downs unless otherwise noted and should not be used without written permission.

our thoughts on

The Impact of COVID-19 on Community Colleges
Don’t Forget About Your HEERF Reporting Requirements
The FFIEC’s Take on Addressing Pandemic Planning within Business Continuity Processes
Cybersecurity Tips from Home Video Series
Paycheck Protection Program – Interim Final Rule: Additional Revisions to Loan Forgiveness and Loan Review Procedures Interim Final Rules
Announcing the Second Annual Ohio Trucking Association and Schneider Downs Transportation Business Outlook and Economic Survey

Register to receive our weekly newsletter with our most recent columns and insights.

Have a question? Ask us!

We’d love to hear from you. Drop us a note, and we’ll respond to you as quickly as possible.

Ask us

contact us

Map of Pittsburgh Office
Pittsburgh

One PPG Place, Suite 1700
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

contactsd@schneiderdowns.com
p:412.261.3644     f:412.261.4876

Map of Columbus Office
Columbus

65 East State Street, Suite 2000
Columbus, OH 43215

contactsd@schneiderdowns.com
p:614.621.4060     f:614.621.4062

Map of Washington Office
Washington, D.C.

1660 International Drive, Suite 600
McLean, VA 22102