Online Skills Academy
Last week, the Department of Education announced its collaboration with the Department of Labor to develop a $25 million grant competition for an Online Skills Academy. This platform would enable high-quality, free or low-cost pathways to degrees, certificates, or other employer-recognized credentials. In coordination with this effort, the Department will also release a notice inviting applications for a $1.5 million grant to study online education especially for low-income and first-generation students in the coming weeks.
Experimental Sites Initiative
The Department of Education recently announced a new round of experimental sites that will allow certain innovative practices and flexible paths for academic and career success to be tested. In December, the Department solicited experimental site proposals for institutions of higher education to test alternative ways of increasing education quality, reducing costs, and administering the student financial assistance programs without being subject to lose their title IV funding. The deadline to submit proposals was January 31, 2014.
Since then, the Department has reviewed the submitted proposals and decided to allow for more regulatory flexibility for institutions to design and test new approaches that will:
Enable students to earn federal student aid based on how much they learn, rather than the amount of time they spend in class by providing federal aid to students enrolled in self-paced competency-based education programs.
Provide flexibility for an institution to provide a mix of direct assessment coursework and credit hour coursework in the same program.
Allow the use of federal student aid to pay for prior learning assessments, which can allow students—including returning adults or veterans—to decrease their time to get a degree.
Encourage college students to mentor high school students in the areas of college readiness, student aid, career counseling and financial literacy, through the use of federal work study funds.
In addition, the Department of Education has announced it is still accepting applications for an existing experiment that provides Pell Grants to students who are pursuing short-term training programs in order to receive the training they need. These applications will be due in late September. As part of the overall experimental sites initiative, the Department will conduct evaluations to demonstrate the effectiveness of these alternative approaches and inform potential future statutory and regulatory changes.
Student Data Privacy Guidance
The Department of Education’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) has released guidance to assist elementary and secondary schools and local educational agencies in achieving greater transparency with respect to their data practices. It outlines the required privacy rights notifications under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) and also encourages educational organizations to go beyond the minimum notifications required in federal law by sharing best practices for student data privacy. The guidance includes recommendations for how schools and districts should provide parents with information about the use of student data and how to respond to parental inquiries and concerns. Additionally, it also advises schools to make their student data policies clear, consistent and easy to find on their public website.
In conjunction with the release of the PTAC guidance, the Department’s Family Policy Compliance Office also announced a new companion website – http://familypolicy.ed.gov – that includes a variety of resources and information regarding FERPA and PPRA and to help keep the public informed about the privacy and use of student records. In the coming months, the Department will post decision letters from prior complaints related to FERPA.