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U.S. Says California Is in Compliance With State Authorization Rules

August 5, 2019

California's new process for giving online students enrolled at public and private nonprofit colleges outside the state a way to submit complaints about their institutions still falls short of new federal rules governing state authorization. But the U.S. Education Department now considers the state to be in compliance with the new rules, the federal agency said in a letter Friday.

The letter from Diane Auer Jones, principal deputy under secretary at the Education Department, appears to end what had been a controversy that had appeared to threaten eligibility for federal financial aid for tens of thousands of students. The U.S. Education Department said last month that Californians enrolled in online programs at public or private institutions in other states would be ineligible for aid under 2016 rules requiring institutions operating online to secure approval from each state in which they intend to enroll students. Consumer groups accused the Education Department of trying to retaliate against faculty unions that had sued the department for failing to implement the 2016 rules, which were crafted by the Obama administration, and doing so by punishing students.

California's Department of Consumer Affairs last week activated a new process through which such students can submit complaints about their out-of-state online providers.

The letter from the Education Department said that the new process is inadequate under the 2016 rules because it appears to "simply [refer] a complaint to an institution's accrediting agency or another agency in the state in which the institution is located," because those bodies would be unable to enforce California laws. The 2016 rules require a state entity to oversee investigations of student complaints and resolve those complaints.

Still, "to avoid the disruption in educational programs for California students adversely affected by the 2016 regulations," Jones said in her letter, the federal agency will "assume that California will modify its plan to refer student complaints to a California State agency for adjudication" between now and when the Trump administration implements the version of the state authorization rules that it drafted in the spring, which resolves the complaint process issue.

"Thus, no student will experience an interruption in his or her education or federal student aid," Jones said.


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