Education Department Issues Coronavirus Guidelines as Campuses Continue to Prepare and Respond
March 09, 2020

​​The Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Federal Student Aid has released guidance to help colleges and universities comply with student financial aid policies for students whose activities are impacted by the new coronavirus, the latest in a number of resources available to help campuses respond to outbreaks in their community.

The spread of the coronavirus continues to cause major disruptions to higher education, including campus closures, in-person classes being moved online, and sports and other large group events being canceled or postponed. ACE2020, ACE’s 102nd annual meeting that was set for March 14-16 in San Diego, is among the events that have been canceled.

The ED guidance provides institutions with greater flexibility to address the myriad ways their campuses may be impacted, either directly because students are ill or quarantined, or indirectly when students are recalled from a study abroad program, can no longer participate in internships or clinical rotations, or are on a campus that is forced to temporarily suspend operations.

According to ED, colleges and universities are allowed to use distance or online education to accommodate students on a temporary basis, and accreditors have wide latitude to waive their review requirements in this area. Institutions also are given authority to implement changes to course schedules and academic calendars, as well as to address circumstances in which federal student aid eligibility or awards may be impacted. For example, institutions would be allowed to continue awarding Federal Work-Study funds to students, even when the student is unable to work due to campus closures.

As Inside Higher Ed wrote this morning, the possibility that more institutions might move to online courses has raised special concerns about international students, whose visas require them to take most of their courses in person. In response to a letter from Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun, the Department of Homeland Security issued further guidance that allows colleges and universities to offer instruction to international students online or at a different physical location in the event of a closure. Institutions must provide the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) notice of the requested change within 10 business days of the decision to do so. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has released interim guidance for campuses in the United States encouraging colleges and universities to collaborate with local health departments to “disseminate information about the disease and its potential transmission to their students, staff, and faculty.” The interim guidance also stresses that plans should be “designed to minimize disruption to teaching and learning and protect students and staff from social stigma and discrimination.”

On the international front, CDC has issued guidance recommending that colleges and universities “consider" postponing or canceling foreign exchange programs and asking students on study abroad programs to return to the United States. Also see this blog post by ACE’s Robin Matross Helms, which asks whether internationalization can survive coronavirus (answer: yes).

ACE has launched a group on ACE Engage to discuss the latest news, advice, and responses to the coronavirus. If you haven’t done so already, registration on Engage is simple and free.

Coronavirus Discussion Group

See a list of institutions that have restricted travel, canceled classes, or otherwise curtailed normal activity. Higher education professionals can join the ACE Engage® coronavirus discussion group to view this and other resources.

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