The United States Department of Education released final regulations for institutional accountability related to Borrower Defense to Repayment loan discharges for Federal Direct Loans. The new regulations revise the standards the Department will use to adjudicate borrower defense to repayment claims and will take effect for all new loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2020, while preserving the standards for loans that were issued under prior regulations. The Final Regulations preserve three borrower defense periods: 1) Loans first disbursed prior to July 1, 2017, which are subject to pre-2016 regulations; 2) Loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2017 and before July 1, 2020, which are subject to final regulations published on November 1, 2016, and 3) Loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2020, which are subject to the 2019 regulations.
Under the new regulations, borrowers who are misled and can demonstrate financial harm caused by their institution can file a claim to have their loan discharged. The Department’s new rules give borrowers up to three years from the time they leave school to file a claim. Claims will be reviewed by ED staff using the “preponderance of the evidence” standard. Both borrowers filing claims and institutions that the borrower attended will be required to provide supporting evidence to ED which will determine if a discharge is warranted.
In the Final Regulation, the Department defines a “misrepresentation” as: a statement, act, or omission by an eligible school to a borrower that is (a) false, misleading, or deceptive, (b) that was made with knowledge of its false, misleading, or deceptive nature or with a reckless disregard for the truth, and (c) that directly and clearly relates to either 1) enrollment or continuing enrollment at the institution; or 2) the provision of educational services for which the loan was made.
According to ED, some examples of misrepresentation include:
- actual licensure passage rates that are different from those in marketing materials, website, and communications;
- actual employment rates materially different from those in the institution’s marketing materials, website, and communications;
- institutional selectivity or rankings, student admission profiles, or institutional rankings that are materially different from those in marketing materials, websites, and communications;
- the institution does not possess certifications, accreditation, or approvals for programs that it represents that it possesses; representations regarding the educational resources provided;
- representations regarding the transferability of credits that, in fact, do not transfer to other institutions;
- representations regarding the employability or specific earnings of graduates without evidence;
- representations regarding the availability, amount, or nature of financial assistance provided;
- representations regarding the amount, method, or timing of payment of tuition and fees that is materially different from the amount, method, or timing of actual tuition and fees;
- representations regarding whether an institution’s courses or programs are endorsed by employment agencies, industry members, government officials, former students, US armed forces, or others without permission; and
- representations regarding the prerequisites for enrollment in a course or program.
Within these “Institutional Accountability” regulations, the Department also amended several other regulations including regulations for class action waivers, pre-dispute arbitration agreements, and rules for closed-school and false certification discharges.
The new regulations will permit institutions to use class-action waivers and arbitration agreements if an institution discloses information about their internal dispute resolution and arbitration processes to students as part of in the borrower’s entrance counseling.
The Final Regulations also allow for the borrower to choose whether to apply for a closed school loan discharge or accept a teach-out opportunity. In addition, the closed school discharge window is expanded from 120 days to 180 days prior to the school’s closure. For borrowers claiming a false certification by their school they can also apply and must complete an application.
This information is for informational and educational purposes only.
To learn more about how your institution can adjust its processes and reporting to minimize its risk of these federal student aid compliance issues, please contact us.