Maybe, just maybe, a conference of 6,500+ attendees could use more options to meet while seated and fewer laptop campers at the cafe and bar. In related news, ASU+GSV Summit has leapfrogged other EdTech conferences in its importance. [full-page audio link]
I have yet to meet anyone who thinks that the decision one week ago by the US Department of Education (ED) to announce delays and reductions in scope of the third-party servicer (TPS) guidance was bad news. The changes were welcome. I have a more pessimistic, or perhaps less optimistic take than most other commenters had on the news, which you can read in this post, and we’ll cover how that conversation is or is not happening at the conference in a future post.
Whether you think the issue has been put to bed and is under control now, or whether you think the TPS expansion is still a major issue for the EdTech community, I think it is worth looking at the roughly 1,100 public comments submitted to ED to get a broad view of opinions on the Dear Colleague Letter DCL 23-03.
We (I had some help) used the bulk download tool at the public comment site and then worked to structure the data to make it more usable. For example, we consolidated the organizational categories into a more manageable set, and we added a column hyperlinking back to the original comment, and did other data cleanup of adding a few organization names, etc. Then we added our classification of the responses:
For: Commenter supports DCL 23-03 and the expanded TPS definitions as written
Against: Commenter is against this expansion as written and believes ED should rescind or significantly change the guidance
Neutral: Commenter only seeks minor change to protect their specific interest, or only asks questions without stating opinion, or is off topic
You can access the full spreadsheet here (Google Sheet).
Public comment periods are not voting systems for regulations, so there is little meaning in a side A wins with 58% of the comments viewpoint. But what is striking in this analysis is the overwhelming consensus of feedback on the guidance. With few exceptions, commenters not only criticized the content and process of the TPS guidance letter, but they did so in remarkably consistent patterns.
Let’s cut to the chase: given the classification system above, we count that fewer than 1% of commenters supported the guidance. 90% were against the guidance (it is wrong, should be rescinded, etc), and 9% were neutral (guidance needs a change or two, questions, or irrelevant comments).
If you look at the 10 comments that were clearly for the TPS guidance letter, there should be little surprise.
Again, this was not a vote. What is striking, however, is that these consumer protection groups were not able to get any clear support from those they view as needing protection. No universities or colleges, not associations representing institutions, no student groups.
Why am I less optimistic than others on last week’s news? It is because the clear answer from the public comments (and especially from the American Council on Education’s comments, the alpha dog of comments) should have been for ED to admit that the DCL missed the market and to rescind the guidance. Then work within the process to get the guidance right, through negotiated rule making or some other channel. I believe that ED made a deliberate decision to avoid rescinding DCL 23-03 despite near-universal criticism for a reason. We will see.
The classification in this analysis is subject to errors and should be considered an initial view. I have enabled comments on the shared Google Sheet – if you feel that our classification on certain responses was wrong, add a comment in the sheet for us to improve the analysis. Or use the sheet to help your own analysis.