- The U.S. Department of Education plans to set up a new way for colleges to report gifts and contracts from foreign sources, according to a notice the agency published in the Federal Register Friday.
- According to the department, 70% of colleges and universities that receive such gifts or contracts are not properly disclosing them. From 2012 to 2018, 162 institutions submitted more than 21,000 disclosures.
- The notice comes after several higher education groups urged the department to clarify how and when colleges are expected to disclose foreign gifts and contracts.
The Higher Education Act requires institutions to report contracts and gifts from foreign sources that total $250,000 or more. However, the Ed Department hasn't issued formal guidance for how they should do so.
That's left institutions in the dark about several procedures, including how to submit corrections to their reports or how to handle multiple gifts from a single source.
The American Council on Education (ACE), along with several other higher education associations, has asked the Ed Department for more clarity around such procedures. And although the Ed Department wrote back, the groups found its response lacking.
"Compliance requires a clear, unambiguous understanding of obligations," ACE wrote on behalf of several higher ed groups in a July letter. "It is patently unfair to enforce requirements that do not exist in writing."
In its reply, the department indicated it might move to streamline how colleges report foreign gifts. The latest notice suggests the agency is likely doing so by creating a new way to collect such information, said Daniel Madzelan, associate vice president of government relations at ACE, in an interview with Education Dive.
That alone won't address the group's complaints. "We would still find that unsatisfactory because the directions or instructions that currently exist … is what we have concerns with," he said.
The stakes have been raised for colleges around disclosure. In recent months, the Ed Department launched probes into foreign funding flowing into Cornell, Georgetown, Rutgers and Texas A&M universities.
For the Ed Department, "this is a transparency issue," Angela Morabito, an agency spokesperson, wrote to Education Dive in an email Thursday. "Schools need to comply with the law." She did not respond to specific questions about the notice and how colleges might be required to disclose information.
A Rutgers spokesperson told Education Dive in an emailed statement that it has "received clarification on the rules" from the Ed Department and recognized "the need to quickly come into compliance with the reporting requirements." Likewise, a Cornell spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the university plans to "fully cooperate" with federal officials, and Georgetown said it worked with the department to demonstrate it reported the required information.
Colleges want to comply with the law, said Luis Maldonado, vice president for government relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, in an interview with Education Dive.
"We're just pointing out to the department where clarity is missing and would benefit institutions in being able to fulfill the letter of the law," he said. "We're interested in working with them through that process."