Did You See The Memo About the TPS Reports? EdTech Style

6 replies
  1. Jim Williamson
    Jim Williamson says:

    Hi Phil: Thank you for keeping us posted on this.

    I wonder if “learning management” is not actually LMSes, but is referencing companies who create educational content and instruction. Indeed, the definition actually excludes TPS’s “Providing computer services or software.” (See: https://www.ecfr.gov/current/title-34/subtitle-B/chapter-VI/part-668/subpart-A/section-668.2#p-668.2(Third-party%20servicer:))

    We’ll have to see how it plays out, but my sense is this refer to companies contracted to create course materials, not necessarily the platforms on which those materials are delivered.

  2. Phil Hill
    Phil Hill says:

    Jim, I think what you are pointing out is that this Dear Colleague Letter is just plain wrong. Yes, the actual regulation excludes “providing computer services or software,” but the DCL clearly includes “providing computer services or software.” Also, they cover instructional content and instruction specifically in the following section / table.

    A DCL should bring clarity and explain subregulatory guidance, not reverse standing regulations or interpret that which is clearly outside of the intent of the HEA. This DCL does the opposite in my opinion.

  3. Jared Stein
    Jared Stein says:

    The language in this guidance is either frustratingly vague and troublingly specific, depending on how you read it. I think the key question is, “What is a ‘Title IV program’?”

    If a Title IV program is an /academic/ program offered by an institution that qualifies for federal student funds (as I believe your interpretation assumes, e.g. “Basically, if a vendor provides software and services enabling in almost any way an academic program eligible for Title IV financial aid, that vendor may be considered a TPS …”), then yeah, this is not only overly broad, it it over reaching.

    But consider how this guidance reads if “Title IV program” does not refer to academic programs offered by the institution, but rather to “financial aid programs for postsecondary students authorized under Title IV of HEA” (as suggested by language used by FSA itself as well as by external entities such as the Congressional Research Service). If this is the case, then any reference to TPS only includes those who administer or interact with FSA. (“A TPS is any entity or individual that administers, any aspect of an institution’s participation in the Title IV programs.”)

    In other words, a vendor who provides software or services that supports academic programs does not qualify one as a TPS, even if that academic program is eligible for a Title IV program.

    I’m leaning toward this this second interpretation, though I am open to being proven wrong. I will say that this second interpretation then makes the guidance’s reference to software or services for “learning management”, “content”, “instruction”, and “assessment” even more confusing. What I suspect the FSA is trying to do is conflate/combine both guidance on administration of “Title IV programs” (specific to financial aid) and also regulate how institutions out-source core functions of their mission, namely instruction.

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