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Response. DHS agrees that the STEM list should be flexible and envisions making periodic updates to the STEM list in response to changes in STEM fields, academic programs, or technological trends. DHS will review recommendations from the public concerning potential additions or deletions to the list, and may announce changes through publication in the Federal Register. DHS intends to use a single procedure for amending the list and therefore disagrees with the commenter who recommended two different procedures for additions and deletions. Additionally, notice and comment publication for every change to the STEM list would hinder DHS's ability to be flexible and responsive to changes in STEM fields. DHS notes, however, that changes to the STEM list would be based on the regulatory definition of “STEM field,” which was subjected to notice and comment. In addition, DHS has provided a mechanism for continuous feedback on the degrees included on the list and encourages interested parties to suggest changes by sending their recommendations to . DHS believes this language and the process described provide sufficient clarity for the continued regulatory implementation of the STEM list.
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DHS notes that a number of the additional fields that commenters recommended for inclusion on the STEM list are included in the final list DHS is adopting with this rulemaking. These include Medical Technology (CIP code 51.1005), Health/Medical Physics (CIP code 51.2205), Econometrics and Quantitative Economics (CIP code 45.0603), Exercise Physiology (CIP code 26.0908), Neuroscience (CIP code 26.1501), Pharmacoeconomics/Pharmaceutical Economics (CIP code 51.2007), Industrial and Physical Pharmacy and Cosmetic Sciences (CIP code 51.2009), Pharmaceutical Sciences (CIP code 51.2010), and Geographic Information Science and Cartography (CIP code 45.0702).
Comment. DHS received a number of comments related to the process for updating the STEM list. One commenter recommended that DHS publish a list and provide for notice and comment regarding any fields DHS intends to add or remove. Other commenters proposed that, in order to retain flexibility to adapt the definition of eligible STEM fields to an innovative economy, DHS should make additions to the list through publication of updates in the Federal Register but without providing for notice and comment. Another commenter asked DHS “to create a system whereby applications to add fields to the STEM list can be made and acted upon quickly” but that “DHS provide a notice and comment period before eliminating specific fields from the STEM list.”
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Some commenters stated that DSOs need clear guidance on how to determine whether a previously earned degree qualifies as a STEM degree sufficient to support a STEM OPT extension. Some commenters also stated that DSOs may have trouble verifying that a practical training opportunity is closely related to the student's prior field of study. Some commenters asked DHS to clarify whether the DSO at the school from which the student received his or her most recent degree would be the DSO responsible for verifying the Department of Education CIP codes used to classify the student's previously earned degree. Many commenters noted that for students with double majors or dual degrees, only the primary major's CIP code is visible on the Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility. Some commenters expressed an interest in displaying a CIP code history (i.e., a complete list of the student's earned degrees) in SEVIS for ease of reference and verification for students who are applying based on previously earned STEM degrees.
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DHS also recognizes that some STEM fields of study may fall outside the summary groups (or series) identified in the NCES definition. As many commenters noted, the proposed rule defined “STEM field” to also include fields of study related to mathematics, natural sciences (including physical sciences, biological, and agricultural sciences), engineering and engineering technologies, and computer and information sciences. The “related fields” language in the STEM definition means that DHS may consider a degree to be in a STEM field even if not within the CIP two-digit series cited in the rule, and it authorizes DHS to designate CIP codes meeting the definition at the two-, four-, or six-digit level. DHS believes that the clarification provided here, coupled with the STEM list itself, are sufficient to address any concern about qualifying STEM degrees and therefore declines to amend the regulatory text.
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Response. In response to commenters' concerns, DHS clarifies several requirements related to the use of previously earned degrees. First, a STEM OPT extension may be granted based on a previously earned degree if that degree is on the STEM list at the time of application for the STEM OPT extension, rather than at the time that the student received the degree. Second, the DSO at the school from which the student received his or her most recent degree (i.e., the DSO who recommended the student's current period of post-completion OPT) is the DSO responsible for verifying the CIP code(s) used to classify the student's previously earned degree. Finally, the institution that conferred the prior degree must be accredited and SEVP-certified at the time the DSO recommends the student for the STEM OPT extension.