Financial Aid for Nontraditional Programs

The U.S. Education Department announced today in the Federal Register a pilot program that will provide an experimental pathway to federal aid for partnerships between colleges and nontraditional education providers, trying out alternatives to accreditation in the process.

Authorized by the experimental sites initiative – which allows for flexibility in testing the disbursement of financial aid – the department will waive a federal ban on colleges outsourcing more than half of their course content and instruction to a non-accredited entity. Hence, the project will allow federal grants and loans to flow to educational technology companies that team up with institutions and third-party "quality-assurance entities" to offer coding boot camps, MOOCs, short-term certificates, and other credentials.

"Some of these new models may provide more flexible and more affordable credentials and educational options than those offered by traditional higher [education] institutions, and are showing promise in preparing students with the training and education needed for better, in-demand jobs," the department said in a written statement.

The key parts of the experiment, known as the Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP) program, aim to make nontraditional programs more accessible to low-income students and to experiment with new ways of measuring program quality that are based on students' outcomes.

The pilot EQUIP program is the latest in a series of experiments the department has undertaken to encourage innovation in higher education, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported. In 2011 the department extended Pell Grants to some short-term vocational programs; last year it announced three pilots to support competency-based programs.


Related Links

The Federal Register

The Chronicle of Higher Education