Washington Update

Department of Education Releases Proposed Gainful Employment Rules.

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The Higher Education Act (HEA) requires career education programs at for-profit schools and community colleges to “prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation” in order to participate in federal student aid programs. As a reminder, gainful employment regulations apply to allied or advanced dental education programs that terminate with the awarding of a certificate but not a degree. Last month, negotiators failed to reach consensus during the last of three rulemaking sessions.      Inside Higher Ed reports that representatives of both for-profit and public institutions took issue with the draft proposed regulations. The publication reported that representatives of for-profit programs praised the most recent revisions but criticized the rules overall. According to the article, groups representing for-profit and public institutions also disagreed on how the rules should handle borrowing for expenses other than tuition and fees, such as the cost of books and other academic supplies. Also at issue is whether low-cost programs at community colleges should be exempt from the regulations since few students incur any debt to attend low-cost programs. New regulatory language released in November 2013 reintroduced a standard for loan repayment that would have measured the amount of all outstanding principal owed on federal student loans at the end of each year and penalized schools if their principal balances rose over time. This elicited complaints from the for-profit sector, and this more stringent formula was eventually dropped from the standards, provoking harsh criticism from consumer advocates.   Data prepared by the U.S. Department of Education estimated that under the most recent version of the proposed rules, 13% of the existing 11,735 programs would fail to meet the standards. Next steps, it will be up to the U.S. Department of Education to draft final regulations and submit those for public comment.

Controversy Surrounds Proposed Higher Education Ratings System

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As part of a wide-ranging plan to curb rising college tuition and make college affordable to more Americans, this summer the Obama administration laid out a series of steps it wants to take, including a controversial proposal to develop a ratings system that would assess the “value” of each college. According to a fact sheet released by the White House in August, the ratings would be based on three broad categories: affordability, accessibility to low-income students and student outcomes. The Obama administration wants to publish the ratings by the 2015 academic year and eventually convince Congress to tie student financial aid to each college’s rating results. Many higher education professionals, however, say that “value” is a subjective term that defies a metric categorization. Advocates for community colleges are particularly skeptical of the utility of a ratings system, even for informational purposes. They have noted that most community college students picked a school based on its geographic location, not on published metrics. It has been reported that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has acknowledged that a ratings plan has “potential pitfalls” but emphasized that the ratings system will compare only similar institutions and take differences in student populations into account. He has called criticism of a rating system that does not yet exist premature.

Department of Education Launches Financial Aid Information Website

Education | Permanent link

The U.S. Department of Education has launched a new site, FinancialAidToolkit.ed.gov that provides one-stop shopping for all financial aid questions. The “Financial Aid Toolkit” is a searchable, online database that consolidates financial aid resources and content in one spot on the web. It is designed to help school guidance counselors and other professionals more easily navigate the complicated area of financial aid and provide better support to students. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan unveiled the new website on December 4 before more than 6,000 people at the 2013 Federal Student Aid Training Conference for Financial Aid Professionals. “This toolkit builds on the administration’s ongoing efforts to improve college access and affordability, and it is an important step toward meeting the President’s 2020 goal of having the most college graduates in the world,” said Duncan. The database has four subsections that cover the basics of financial aid; these include a primer on financial aid, advice on conducting financial aid outreach, information on training to becoming a financial aid counselor and a database searchable by topic, audience type and type of media—from social media to infographics.

FTC Recommends Changes in Proposed Standards for Dental Therapists

Education | Permanent link

The staff of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has advised the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) that proposed accreditation standards for dental therapy education could impede rather than promote the development of a nationwide dental therapy profession. The FTC staff, in an advisory letter, said CODA’s Accreditation Standards for Dental Therapy Education Programs include unnecessary statements on supervision, evaluation and treatment planning, language that could have the effect of limiting competition in the supply of dental care services. “We respectfully suggest that CODA consider dropping such statements,” the FTC wrote. Among the statements singled out by the FTC is one saying that supervising dentists “will be responsible for assessment of the implications of the patient’s medical condition, diagnosis, risk assessment, prognosis and treatment planning.” The FTC letter notes that “such statements ordinarily are not found in the accreditation standards of education programs for other allied dental professionals who are also supervised by dentists” and could “constrain states’ discretion … to define broadly dental therapists’ scope of practice to include oral evaluation and treatment planning.” The FTC recommended that CODA consider omitting categorical statements on topics that are typically addressed through state licensure and scope-of-practice laws, and that CODA consider developing accreditation standards for graduate-level dental therapy programs.

Senate Task Force to Assess Higher Education Regulations and Reporting Requirements

Education | Permanent link

A Senate-sponsored task force of 14 college and university experts has been formed to make recommendations to “reduce and streamline confusing or costly regulations.” The task force was announced on November 18 by four members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), which oversees higher education and education-related federal regulatory requirements. “The stack of federal regulations on colleges and universities today is not the result of evil doers, it is simply the piling up of well-intentioned laws and regulations without anyone spending an equal amount of time weeding the garden first,” said committee member Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), a former Secretary of Education, in a statement. “Let’s face it: the federal government has become one of the greatest obstacles to innovation in higher education…. This task force will help Congress weed the garden.” The task force is co-chaired by Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos and University System of Maryland Chancellor William Kirwan, and includes 12 other college and university presidents and higher education experts. The American Council on Education will provide organizational assistance. A press release from American University, whose president, Cornelius Kerwin, will also serve on the task force, said the group would come up with specific recommendations to streamline confusing “regulations, legislation and reporting requirements” and “review in detail the extent of all federal reporting and regulatory requirements placed on institutions, including estimates of time and costs associated with that reporting.”

National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Application Cycle to Open Soon

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The FY14 National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment program application cycle will start accepting applications soon.  The program is open to dental providers who are employed or seeking employment at approved sites. Applicants should be interested in working with underserved communities and populations in high need areas throughout the United States.  Please click here for additional information.

Health Professions Schools Warned Against Hepatitis B Discrimination

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The Departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services sent a joint letter to all U.S. medical schools, dental schools, nursing schools, and other health-related schools, expressing concern that some may be making enrollment decisions based on an incorrect understanding of the hepatitis B virus, resulting in discrimination.

U.S. Department of Education Will Not Appeal Gainful Employment Rule

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The U.S. Department of Education has decided not to appeal a federal judge’s decision that blocked key provisions of the gainful employment rule before it took effect.
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