When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in the spring of 2020, the federal government granted higher education institutions a series of exemptions and flexibilities that allowed them to continue operating under radically different conditions. Schools were allowed to pay work-study wages to students whose employment was interrupted by, for example, COVID, and did not have to include hours not completed due to COVID in financial aid calculations. Domestic students were exempted from financial aid verification requirements and some international students were allowed to skip the visa interview process.
Now, with the Biden administration’s announcement that the national and public health emergencies declared in response to COVID will end on the 11th.Thursdayall these accommodations are coming to an end and institutions will have to adapt.
“The waiver has been in place for three years, so schools have really gotten used to it,” said Jill Desjean, senior analyst for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. “They will have to reacquaint themselves with ‘normal-normal’ as opposed to ‘new normal’.”
This adjustment can be an administratively demanding process.
“The end of the national emergency does not lead to any sudden decline,” Desjean said. “It kind of starts the clock. It’s not as simple as, “Hey everyone, May 11thThursdayyou can’t do any of these things.”
Individual flexibilities and exceptions have their own validity period. Some accommodations may end with the closing of terms or semesters or payment periods. Others can continue for the entire academic year after the end of extraordinary events. And the dates will vary from school to school because they are based on the academic calendars of individual institutions.
“I think the hardest thing is going to be tracking all that data,” Desjean said.
However, Desjean believes most schools can handle the transition.
“I don’t think the expiration of many of these waivers will be dramatic because schools have had some time to prepare,” she said. “They can have an extra semester, even an extra year to prepare for these waivers to expire.”
Sarah Spreitzer, assistant vice president and head of government relations at the American Council on Education, agreed.
“I don’t think any of this is a surprise or that it’s difficult for institutions to meet,” she said.
This is partly because as the impact of the pandemic has diminished, many flexibilities and exemptions have become less necessary.
“I don’t know how common it is now for a student to have their job interrupted by a COVID-19 event,” Desjean said.
However, there is a chance that some pandemic changes may be permanent.
“We’re certainly going to work with our institutions to understand if there were things that worked well under the flexibility and if there were things that we’re going to advocate for going forward with the administration and Congress,” Spreitzer said.
One possibility could be to relax the rules that allowed some foreign students who came from visa-free countries to skip the interview process.
“I think some of these flexibilities have really helped the State Department resolve the visa backlog,” Spreitzer said. “It would be great if they could continue somehow.
Another prospect could be rule changes that require some students’ FAFSA information to be double-checked, which can require significant time and effort on the part of students.
“[The Department of Education] has been willing to acknowledge over the past few years how much of a burden it is on students to complete the verification process and how much of a barrier it can be for them,” said Desjean. “I could see the department looking more closely at those flexibilities and maybe keeping them in the future.”
It’s possible that the end of pandemic emergencies will affect higher ed in ways that go beyond the end of Department of Education grants. Changes to who is responsible for paying for COVID testing and treatment could affect school campuses, for example. According to Spreitzer, the government should receive further clarification soon.
“I think the administration will probably be putting together guidance or announcements about when things will end as the 11th approaches.Thursday,” she said.
Jon Edelman can be reached at JEdelman@DiverseEducation.com.