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Postsecondary Education Answers to Frequently Asked Questions Related to COVID-19

The Office of Postsecondary and Higher Education (OPHE) at the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) administers programs and enforces statute and regulations related to postsecondary education.

OPHE understands that the mandated suspension of in-person instruction at postsecondary institutions due to COVID-19 creates uncertainty regarding many facets of the administration of postsecondary education.

For this reason, we have developed a list of general questions and answers aimed at providing postsecondary institutions with guidance related to COVID-19. PDE will update this page with additional guidance as needed.

Topics: Retrieving Personal Belongings | Continuous Operation | Educational Specialist | Medical/Nursing Training Programs* | Nurse Aide, EMT, Police, and Firefighter Training* | Pass or Fail Grades | Student Loans

* Content most recently added/updated (June 8, 2020)

Pass or Fail Grades

Do colleges and universities need PDE approval to award pass or fail grades?

No. Colleges and universities determine their own grading policies and standards. The PA Department of Education does not approve these policies. However, some professional licenses (e.g., teacher certification) require specific grades or grade point average (GPA) standards. Institutions also should confirm that changes to grading standards are acceptable to all applicable institutional and programmatic accreditors. 

Can grades in educator preparation programs be awarded as pass or fail?

State regulation requires a minimum 3.0 GPA for admission to a teacher preparation program and for certification. PDE will not waive the 3.0 grade GPA requirement. Pass or fail grades may be offered to students, but programs should carefully assess how that decision will affect a student's GPA and ability to continue through the program.

Student Loans

How can a student obtain information about student loan forgiveness and forbearance?

The Pennsylvania Department of Education does not disburse student financial aid or have authority over student loans. Information about the pandemic and federal student loan forgiveness and forbearance is available through the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Federal Student Aid.

Questions pertaining to private student loans should be direct to the respective loan servicer.

Retrieving Personal Belongings

May students return to school or college to pick up their possessions?

Schools and postsecondary institutions do not need to seek approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Education to have students return to buildings to pick up belongings or to clear out their dorm rooms. 

However, for the safety of students, staff, and families, schools and postsecondary institutions should implement a process that allows students to retrieve their belongings in a manner that prevents or mitigates the spread of COVID-19 and that employs social distancing measures, universal masking, and other applicable guidelines provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every effort should be taken to minimize opportunities for personal interaction. Students should contact their school for specific instructions on the process for retrieving belongings.

Continuous Operation

Are postsecondary schools licensed by the PA State Board of Private Licensed Schools required to maintain continuous instruction?

Postsecondary private licensed schools are not required by PDE or the PA State Board of Private Licensed Schools to provide continuous operations during the pandemic. As such, postsecondary private licensed schools would not be in violation of Board or Department regulations if instruction is suspended during the pandemic or while the Governor's emergency declaration is in effect.

However, it is important to note that postsecondary private licensed schools are obligated to provide the clock hours of instruction in the approved programs; no adjustments can be made in the content of the instruction. The postsecondary private licensed school also must continue to comply with the student enrollment agreements. Postsecondary private licensed schools may make up classes or extend the completion date if instruction cannot be delivered remotely.

Educational Specialist

How should approved educator specialist, supervisory, and administrator preparation programs modify their field experience due to the COVID-19 pandemic to align them with the Department's recommendations?

In recognition of the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the completion of internship and practicum hours required for educational specialists, supervisors and administrators, PDE has created these emergency program guidelines as an alternative for preparation programs unable to meet the current required number of internship and/or practicum hours for their students scheduled to graduate in the spring and summer of 2020. 

Given the impact of the pandemic, the Department recommends preparation programs develop alternatives to meeting the traditional number of hours required in internships and/or practicums.  Preparation programs must utilize the following strategies to assess the preparation of students who are unable to complete the traditional internship/practicum experience in order to recommend them for certification:

  • Implement a research- and competency-based evaluation system for candidates impacted by COVID-19-related school closures; and

    • Commit to providing targeted technical assistance during the 2020-21 school year to Pennsylvania local education agencies that hire educator specialists impacted by these program modifications. 

To implement the competency-based evaluation system, approved educator specialist program providers will:

1.      Document candidate's progress to-date in any internship or practicum.  Evaluation should be based on completed field experiences to date, which has been accomplished at all institutions of higher education (IHEs). Institutions are required to use evaluation tools that align with their program framework guidelines to make determinations about specific areas for growth and support.

2.      Implement a wide array of engagement activities to approximate activities that would normally be associated with the field experiences.  Activities will be designed by individual educator preparation programs to afford candidates the opportunity to master competencies in each of the major domains.  Activities may include, but are not limited, to the following:

  • Online collaboration with mentors;

  • Planning and preparing portfolio projects;

  • Completion of projects related to practice;

  • Observation and simulation experiences; and

  • Other assignments designed, implemented, and evaluated by IHE faculty.

3.      Complete summative evaluations for each candidate based on (a) progress in the program to date; and (b) satisfactory completion of additional activities assigned by the educator program provider.  Preparation programs must keep a copy of this completed evaluation in the student's education record as proof of satisfying the approved alternative to the traditional field experience assignment.

Preparation programs that complete the process described above may: a) indicate that a candidate who demonstrates a satisfactory level of performance or higher has completed the field experience requirements in the TIMS certification application and; b) recommend the applicant for certification. Certification applicants must satisfy all other requirements for certification. 

*Programs should be sure that any field, internship or practicum requirements that involve additional licensure through the Department of State are aligned so the student is able to be licensed accordingly.

Nurse Aide, EMT, Police, and Firefighter Training

May workforce development training programs maintain in-person operations?

According to Governor Wolf’s Life-Sustaining Business Frequently Asked Questions webpage, the following workforce development training programs may resume statewide: nurse aid and direct care training programs; police academy, and other law enforcement training; emergency medical services (EMS) training; emergency medical technician (EMT) training; and fire training programs. Each program must be structured around ongoing social distancing, universal masking, and/or other public health guidance so as not to result in a spike of cases and new stay-at-home and closure orders. Please visit Governor Wolf’s Life-Sustaining Business Frequently Asked Questions webpage for the most up-to-date information in regard to the aforementioned.