ACE, Associations Reiterate Request for Clarification of Foreign Gift Reporting Requirements
July 15, 2019

ACE and other higher education associations have for the third time in seven months sent a letter asking the Department of Education (ED) to clarify the reporting requirements of Section 117 of the Higher Education Act in order to help colleges and universities comply with these obligations.

In its July 12 le​tter​, ACE and the other associations note that more than three decades after enactment, ED has not issued Section 117 regulations. Instead, it has issued two “Dear Colleague Letters,” the last one in 2004, providing only limited guidance. That is even as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has said that “the era of rule by letter is over.”

However, that’s precisely what ED is doing in the case of Section 117, the ACE letter states.

“As Secretary DeVos promised in regards to not ruling by letter, the most effective way of ensuring that institutions know exactly how to comply with Section 117 is to undertake a formal rulemaking process that allows for public comments,” stated the letter from ACE Senior Vice President Terry W. Hartle.

The July 12 ACE letter responded to a July 3 letter from the Department of Education, which was ED’s  reply to letters about the need for Section 117 clarification that ACE sent Jan. 18, 2019, and June 21, 2019.

But ED’s July 3 response “will not help institutions meet compliance obligations,” the ACE letter said. “Compliance requires a clear, unambiguous understanding of obligations. It is patently unfair to enforce requirements that do not exist in writing.”

As Inside Higher Ed has reported, the Department of Education has increased its scrutiny of whether colleges comply with the foreign gift reporting requirements, and opened investigations into several institutions.

But as Sarah Spreitzer, ACE director of government and public affairs, told Inside Higher Ed, “There is a lot of confusion among our member institutions on what needs to be reported under Section 117.”​​

Spreitzer added that, “ACE and our member institutions want to be helpful in responding to these national security issues. We don’t want to be out of compliance; we don’t want to not report. We support the efforts to bring transparency to these partnerships, but we can’t do that without clarification or further guidance from the department.”

In addition to ACE, the following associations signed the letter: American Association of Community Colleges; American Association of State Colleges and Universities; Association of American Universities; Association of Public and Land-grant Universities; Council on Governmental Relations; and National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.