UPDATE: What College Accreditation Changes Mean for Students

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this blog post appeared here. This post has been updated to reflect the most recent developments.

For millions of Americans, federal student loans and grants open the doors to a college education. That critical federal student aid must be used at a school that is (among other things) given the seal of approval by an “accrediting agency” or “accreditor” recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. It’s one of the safeguards in the system. Accreditation is an important signal to students, families, and the Department about whether a school offers a quality education. Accreditors have a responsibility under federal law to make sure colleges earn that seal.

But what happens when the Department stops recognizing an accrediting agency?

It’s a relatively unusual case, but it’s a relevant one today. Today, Secretary King—as part of our regular process for reviewing accreditorsupheld the decision to stop recognizing the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (or ACICS) as an agency that can provide schools with an accreditation that makes them eligible for participation in federal aid. For more information about the failures that led to that recommendation click here.

I’ll try to answer some of what you might be wondering today, and we’ll continue to provide more information as the process plays out.

How do I know if my school is accredited by ACICS?

Good first question. You can look it up here.

What does this mean for students at ACICS-accredited institutions?

Many institutions will not be impacted for the next 18 months, which is the time they have to receive accreditation by another recognized agency.

The 18-month timeframe means that a number of students who already have started at one of these schools will be able to complete their certificates or degrees before anything changes.

Generally speaking, if you’re near the end of your program or you’re preparing to transfer to another college or university, this news probably won’t interrupt your program. Your school will let you know directly if that’s not the case.

States also have a role to play with schools’ ability to receive student aid. So we’ve also required your school to notify you if any state action or other circumstance affects their ability to participate while they look for a new accreditor.

What happens next?

Your school and others accredited by ACICS now have 18 months to get a seal of approval from a different recognized accreditor in order to stay eligible to participate in federal student aid programs. Schools are eligible to continue their participation in the meantime.

Again, if you’re wondering whether changes in your school’s accreditation status might affect your specific plans, you should reach out to your school for individualized advice.

It’s worth noting here that licensing for some jobs – but not all – may require that your program is currently accredited by a Department-recognized accreditor. Contact your institution and/or the licensure board in your field to see if this is the case.

Okay, so it will take a while, but what if a school ultimately can’t find an accreditor?

At that point, students would no longer be able to use their federal student aid at those schools. Students who have not completed their program and want to continue to use federal loans or grants past that point would need to transfer to another school. Schools also need to have a plan in place to inform students about their options.

What if I want to transfer out of my school?

That’s a decision only you can make, but we have some tools that can help if you decide to transfer. In particular, you might want to check out the College Scorecard to look into other options and see how well those schools prepare their graduates for life after college.

Again, circumstances will be unique to each student and each school, but you may be able to transfer your credits. You’ll want to check with the new school’s registrar.

I just started a program at an ACICS-accredited school. What should I do?

You may want to be in touch with your school now, at the start of the 18-month period, to understand its plan to pursue accreditation with a different accreditor. Throughout the coming months, if the school isn’t taking steps towards a new accreditation process, we’ll require it to disclose that information directly to its students.

You might also want to do a little research using the College Scorecard. There, you can make sure your school has a track record of preparing its students for successful careers. You can also compare other options if you’re interested in transferring.

I already graduated from an ACICS-accredited school. Is my degree compromised?

Nobody can take away the hard work you put in or the skills you gained. Your school was accredited when you completed your program, and you’ll never have to return your certificate or diploma.

If you have concerns about your license or credential, please contact the relevant licensure board in your state.

Now what?

If your school is not on track to be accredited by another Department-recognized accreditor, then your school should be in touch immediately with you to share information about your options. Also, you can continue to track your school’s accreditation status here.

Whatever you choose to do, please know this: you have a wealth of options in pursuing your education, so don’t stop. Getting a high-quality degree or credential in a field where employers are hiring is still the surest way to provide for your future economic security.

For our part, we’ll keep working to protect students like you and support you as you work to complete your degree or credential.

 

Matt Lehrich is Communications Director at the Department of Education.

LGBT Students Work to Ensure Safe and Supportive Schools for all Students

Yesterday, myself and four other LGBTQ Activists from GLSEN had the honor of sitting down with US Secretary of Education, Dr. John King, in his second to last day in office. Amid a changing administration, the Secretary offered his words of advice, and listened to our experiences as LGBTQ students as well as our hopes for inclusivity in the future of education.  I think all of us, both visitors from GLSEN and the staff at the Department of Education, can agree that we all walked away with valuable information, useful connections, and an even stronger motivation to fight for student’s rights in schools.

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Creating an Educational System that Supports Democracy Through Student Activism

Education is the great engine of our democracy, and the fuel for that engine is the opportunities students have to engage in activism on issues that are important to them. It is the job of adult allies to nurture and support students in this endeavor.  Seven student leaders from across the country came to ED to share  how they successfully accomplished advocacy efforts at their respective high schools and college campuses, specifically identifying the supports they received, and how government–teachers, principals, school board members, public college/university administrators, state legislatures, and yes, federal officials–can best support them in their advocacy efforts.

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A New Principal — Again

Nine times in twenty-eight years of teaching I’ve gone through the training of a new principal in my high school.  Nine times! And to make matters more frustrating, the replacement always seems to be the philosophical and pedagogical opposite of the one he or she is replacing. The gentle farmer replaced by the fire-breathing nun, the retired Navy commander replaced by a Phi Beta Kappan from a Denver suburb, the teacher-friendly curriculum specialist replaced by education’s answer to a prison warden.  You get the idea.  Most recently this trend continued with a beloved, student-centered Principal of the Year being replaced by a National Guard Lieutenant Colonel in the Infantry.  My English department (really the entire staff) looked to me for guidance on how to bridge this transition of power.

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Launching ED’s Developer Hub

Today, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) launches its first developer hub, a dedicated space for centralizing our developer resources, documenting open government efforts at the agency, and celebrating what you have built using ED data and code.

Work began last year to redesign how the Department engages technologists. Partnering with 18F, the federal government’s digital consultancy agency, ED’s open data initiative, InformED, developed a two-pronged approach to better serve developers: (1) establish a presence on Github and (2) create a central location for developer-focused content.

With the help of 18F and offices across the Department, we are excited to introduce ED’s official developer hub usedgov.github.io—an extension of ED’s official Github account @usedgov!

What We’ve Built (And Why)

When we started developing the hub, we wanted to address a few outstanding needs.

First, we needed to organize and grow our selection of open source projects and APIs. For some time, the College Scorecard API and code repository were all that we could feature. To expand our offerings, 18F helped us set up an instance of their open source project, AutoAPI, an API engine that converts flat files into a web service. That technology gives ED a simple and easy way to deliver more APIs. We used it to create a set of My Brother’s Keeper APIs and Civil Rights Data Collection APIs, providing additional access points to compelling student equity data. Now centrally located and documented, these resources (and those to come) will be more discoverable and easier to use.

Next, we needed to consolidate news on how ED is working to improve education’s digital landscape and access to federal education data. The hub’s News section is where we can share information about the progress of open government innovation at ED. By cataloguing our successes here, the public can better understand what we’ve done—and what more we have to do. We hope this cache of stories will support ongoing conversations about the importance of open data and embracing digital technology.

Finally, we needed a space to highlight the work of developers who have used ED’s resources to bring incredible ideas to life. The hub’s interactive app gallery allows you to explore how others are translating federal education resources and data into actionable tools for a wide range of users. Take a look and get inspired!

Development of the hub took several months. By incorporating only openly licensed components, such as the source code for CFPB’s brilliant developer hub, we saved resources and time. It also ensures that internal and external users can repurpose what we have built however they see fit.

We’re Just Beginning… And We Need You!

These are foundational efforts. At launch, our catalog of ED APIs and open source components is limited—but will expand with your help. In launching a developer hub and Github account, ED sees the beginning of a stronger, more collaborative relationship with the developer community.

ED hopes these platforms grow to reflect what you, the user, would like to see from them. We want your feedback. Tell us what APIs you would like to see and your ideas for improving our datasets and documentation. We’re listening. Help us build a better partnership, so that we can build a better world for students—together!

InformED is the U.S. Department of Education’s primary open data initiative whose mission is to establish a world-class open data infrastructure at ED.

4 Loan Forgiveness Programs for Teachers

teachers do you have student loans?

1. Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program

Forgives the remaining balance on your Federal Direct Loans after 120 qualifying payments (10 years).

View complete program details at StudentAid.gov/publicservice.

Here are some highlights:

  • This program has the broadest employment qualification requirements of the federal programs listed—it doesn’t require that you teach at a low-income a public school, or even be a teacher. Most full-time public and private elementary and secondary school teachers will meet the employment requirements.
  • You must have Direct Loans. If you have other types of federal loans, like FFEL or Perkins Loans, you must consolidate in order for those loans to qualify. To check which types of loans you have, log in to StudentAid.gov.
  • You should repay your loans on an income-driven repayment plan if you want to get the most value out of the program. You can apply for an income-driven repayment plan on StudentLoans.gov.
  • In order for payments to count toward the 120 needed to get forgiveness, they need to be full payments, made no more than 15 days late, and made after October 1, 2007.
  • Loan amounts forgiven under PSLF are NOT considered taxable by the IRS.

To confirm whether you qualify for the program, submit this form ASAP.

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U.S. Department of Education Announces Final Regulation on Open Licensing Requirement for Competitive Grant Programs

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet with Benetech, one of our grantees, and observe some of the tools they have developed under their Department grant to help visually impaired people access the content of graphics in books.  The tool has many applications, including giving visually impaired children the opportunity to better enjoy picture books and high school students better access to information in graphics and diagrams in science books. An interesting aspect of Benetech’s approach is that they share the descriptions with everyone wherever they may be in the world who can benefit from them. This is possible because they have voluntarily applied an open content license to all materials created through their DIAGRAM Center, and an open source license to their software.

“As a mission-focused nonprofit, we believe that openness and transparency are the best ways to accomplish our goals of equal access to education for special needs students,” said Benetech CEO Jim Fruchterman. “This has made it easier to work cooperatively with other leading organizations because it was expressly established that the resulting content would be available to all on an equal basis through the open license.”

Similarly, the Department’s First in the World (FITW) grant program has made available more than $135 million worth of innovations in higher education to the public through open licenses. For example, one grantee, College of America at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), created a learning platform and skill-building modules to provide academic assistance for underprepared adults re-entering higher education that any other interested institution will be able to freely use.

“We want the innovations and resources that we create with the Department¹s funding to be available to our colleagues at other institutions so that they can use our work as a basis for their own innovations. This allows them to serve the unique needs of their own students better.” Paul Leblanc, President of SNHU.

Building on the work of these and other grantees who have led the way with open licenses, today we are announcing a rule that will significantly enhance dissemination of valuable educational resources and provide stakeholders with greater access to use, reuse, and modify these deliverables.  We expect that this will yield great benefits for educators, students, and their education communities.  The final regulation requires, with certain exceptions, that grantees receiving Department funds under a competitive grant program openly license copyrightable grant deliverables created with those funds.

When we first published our proposed open licensing rule in October 2015, Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. spoke of the promise of taking an open approach, “By requiring an open license, we will ensure that high-quality resources created through our public funds are shared with the public, thereby ensuring equal access for all teachers and students regardless of their location or background. We are excited to join other federal agencies leading on this work to ensure that we are part of the solution to helping classrooms transition to next generation materials.”

The rule we have announced today supports our commitment in the Third U.S. Open Government National Action Plan to expand access to educational resources through open licensing. In doing so, we join other federal agencies, including the Departments of Labor, State (including USAID), and the National Science Foundation, that currently administer programs with open licensing requirements.

Regarding the final regulations:

  1. The open licenses will give the public permission to use and reuse deliverables created in whole or in part with Department competitive grants funds provided by the Department.
  2. The requirement applies both to grant deliverables (e.g. teacher professional development training modules) and any final version of program support materials necessary to the use or reuse of the deliverables.
  3. Grantees or subgrantees will provide a dissemination plan and may select the open license appropriate to their grant deliverables.
  4. Based on feedback from public comments and input from other federal agencies, the Department has added certain categorical exceptions, such as for the Ready to Learn Television grant program.
  5. The Department will fully implement this rule for all applicable competitive grant programs in FY 2018.

The final regulation can be found here: https://tech.ed.gov/files/2017/01/ED-Open-Licensing-Rule-1.11.17-Public.pdf

I am pleased that many more instructors and students will be able to access learning resources paid for with public funds.  By sharing our work openly with each other, we can all benefit.

Joseph South is Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.

New Report Shows Increased Need for Federal Investments in Early Learning

Are there too many federal early learning programs?  This question has been contentiously debated and discussed in Washington, DC for years.  Are programs that simply permit funding for early learning as a part of a larger initiative, such as Title I or English Language Acquisition grants, considered early learning programs?  Should programs that merely mention the importance of early learning – the Appalachian Area Development grants or Donations of Federal Surplus Personal Property program – be considered early learning programs?  These issues have emerged from a 2012 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report.

A “too many programs” argument has been frequently cited as evidence of government waste, overlap, and duplication and a reason not to provide any new investments to support our youngest children achieve success in school.  However, a recent analysis of federal programs conducted by the Departments of Education (ED) and Health and Human Services (HHS) make it clear that the investments in early learning are not meeting the needs of families across the nation and many eligible families are not receiving services.

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More Transparency in Higher Education Will Help Improve Student Outcomes

Every year, the U.S. Department of Education provides billions of dollars in Federal financial aid to help students enroll in college. Yet too many students—roughly two in five bachelor’s degree-seeking students—leave school with no degree, often leaving them with debt, no job, and a high risk of default. In recent years, the Department has made strides toward improving these odds, yet more work remains.

To identify the most promising ways to improve postsecondary outcomes, researchers and policymakers need transparency into the data collected from Federal Student Aid (FSA) programs. That’s why the Department has taken significant steps to ensure more and better data are available. And it’s why today, we are announcing additional efforts to support responsible data access and transparency of information about higher education, while supporting borrower privacy and data security.

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How to Fill Out the FAFSA When You Have More Than One Child in College

Got 2 or more kids attending college

Having one child who is heading to college can be stressful, but having to help multiple children at the same time can feel like too much to manage. While I can’t save you from a forgotten application deadline or the “how to do your own laundry” lessons, hopefully, I can help make the financial aid part of the process run more smoothly with these tips:

How many FSA IDs will my children and I need? How many FAFSAs do we have to complete?

An FSA ID is a username and password combination that serves as your legal electronic signature throughout the financial aid process—from the first time your children fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid ( FAFSA®) until the time their loans are paid off. You AND each of your children will need your own FSA ID. Parents and students can create their FSA IDs here.

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Believe in Your Power

On Thursday, January 12, thousands of teachers across the nation will receive appreciation phone calls from the Department of Education. These educators were nominated by their colleagues, parents, and students to receive a call. As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow, I had a chance to read the comments stating why each educator deserved personalized appreciation.

“He has been a beacon of light and hope for my daughter who sometimes struggles but has so much to offer the world. He challenges and educates, but most of all he cares.”

“She is tirelessly dedicated to serving some of the most historically underserved students in our school system, very high needs, minority special education students. She is a true advocate for justice and equity!”

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Photo by: Todd Goodrich, University of Montana.

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Ensuring Education for All Children

For most children, school is their home away from home. There they form friendships, socialize, grow, and learn.  Children and their families rely on teachers, principals, and other school staff to nurture and protect them when away from home.  And families and educators have a shared responsibility to work together and ensure that schools are safe environments for all, including our youngest and most vulnerable children.  We can best meet this responsibility when we have a clear understanding of policies and resources that can support the creation of safe learning environments, and ultimately, children’s development and learning.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) regularly releases resources to help educators, school administrators, and families to protect and ensure equitable access to education for all children, including our most vulnerable student populations.  For example, in the past few years, ED has released several documents that address the needs of immigrant children.  One example is the Newcomer Toolkit ED released in September that provided a one-stop shop for educators who serve newcomer students.  The toolkit both catalogued resources for meeting the unique socio-emotional and academic needs of these students and highlighted the assets that newcomer students bring to the classroom.

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What Gets Measured, Gets Done: DC Public Schools’ FAFSA Completion Initiative

Let’s state the obvious: 1) Financial aid plays a huge factor in students’ college-going decisions and success (especially low-income students); and 2) Completing the FAFSA is essential for students to access almost all forms of financial aid. So, for a large urban district like DC Public Schools, where 77 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced price lunch, getting graduating seniors to complete their FAFSAs on time isn’t an optional task- it’s a necessary one.

In the fall of 2014, DCPS began a data-driven FAFSA Completion Initiative developed in partnership with our State Education Agency (SEA) and the US Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Programs Division (FSA). DCPS saw a 3 percentage point increase from year one to year two of effort, and are aiming for an additional 3 percentage point increase this year. Here’s how we made it happen:

  • Access FSA’s FAFSA Completion Portal: In 2014, FSA granted SEAs access to student-level FAFSA completion data. Prior to this, we could only measure FAFSA completion by school, which wasn’t granular enough to act on in a meaningful way. DCPS collaborated with our SEA to allow us and school leaders access to the FAFSA portal data, which lets us see exactly which students had completed the FAFSA, and who had submitted the FAFSA with errors (and which ones).
  • Make the Data Actionable & Accessible: At DCPS, we often say, “What gets measured, gets done.” Every two weeks, we format the FAFSA portal data into an easy-to-read summary table that we email to all school leaders, staff, and college access providers responsible for FAFSA completion. Here’s a sample, simplified version:

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