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Testing Access for Low-Income Students to a New Generation of Higher Education Providers

The Department of Education is announcing eight selected sites for the latest experiment to learn about potential changes to disbursing federal financial aid.

Testing Access for Low-Income Students to a New Generation of Higher Education Providers

It’s no secret that the American economy is changing. Some of the most in-demand skills, and even some of the fastest-growing industries, barely existed a generation ago. Technology and globalization require that people have higher levels of education to succeed in today’s and tomorrow’s jobs, shifting the skills that are most in-demand. By 2020, experts estimate that two-thirds of U.S. jobs will require a postsecondary education beyond high school.

The good news is that in response to these trends, we have made strong progress in increasing access to higher education for Americans from all backgrounds. The percentage of adults with a postsecondary degree has increased by nearly 40 percent in the last twenty years. The Obama Administration has strengthened community colleges through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College Career Training (“TAACCT”) grants and the America’s College Promise proposal that would make community college or two years at an HBCU or minority-serving institution free, expanded Pell Grants and created more flexible and affordable ways for students to repay loans, and invested in innovative programs such as First in the World to build evidence around what works to encourage college success.

The challenge for the next decade is to make sure that when people do get access to higher education, those programs are of high quality and lead to strong educational and employment outcomes for all students. Tackling this challenge will require that postsecondary institutions evolve to keep pace with the changing economy. And it will also require innovation in the ways we measure, and hold institutions accountable for, results.

One of the main levers that the federal government has to spur this type of positive change in higher education is the roughly $150 billion that it makes available in federal financial aid. While any changes to the funding model itself would require Congressional action, experimentation on a small scale may help inform any potential future policy changes.

That is why, under the Obama Administration, the Department of Education has begun to use its experimental sites authority under the Higher Education Act to learn about potential changes to disbursing federal financial aid. In the past, the Department of Education has used ex-sites to allow incarcerated students to get Pell grants, to let students use Pell dollars for short-term and vocational courses, and to allow low-income high school students to access Pell Grants for dual enrollment programs.

Today the Department of Education is announcing eight selected sites for the Department’s latest experiment—Education Quality through Innovative Partnerships—or “EQUIP,” for short. EQUIP is a response to the recent proliferation of education providers that sit outside of traditional higher education such as coding bootcamps and online and blended courses. This new generation of providers can be flexible, affordable, and responsive to the needs of the labor market. And students are taking notice. For example, according to Course Report, the coding bootcamp market will grow by 2.4 times this year, rising from 6,740 in 2014 to over 16,000 in 2015.

Because these programs are not being offered by Title-IV eligible traditional higher education institutions, students cannot currently use federal financial aid to pay for the cost of attendance. That has meant that often these programs are limited to higher-income students.

The goals of EQUIP are both to expand access to these programs for lower-income Americans and to test out new ways of measuring quality outcomes for these nontraditional programs in higher education.

Through EQUIP, low- and middle-income Americans will be able to use Pell Grants and other forms of federal financial aid for the first time, to attend one of eight nontraditional programs that are offered in partnership with colleges and universities. Additionally, each of the seven selected sites is working with a quality assurance entity (QAE) to design and pilot new mechanisms that will assess how well these programs are doing in terms of learning and employment outcomes.

Here’s more about what the sites are up to:

Colorado State University – Global Campus / Guild Education / Tyton Partners

This program will provide management and leadership training to help students advance from low-wage roles into management positions in growing industries like hospitality, retail, and manufacturing. Guild structures partnerships with employers and labor unions to make sure curricula is targeted to labor market needs and to provide internships and hiring pathways for graduates. Guild reported that in its current program, 33 percent of program graduates received promotions that resulted in a 10 percent salary increase within three months of finishing the program.

Dallas Community College / StraighterLine / Council for Higher Education Accreditation

This site will aim to offer flexible, online coursework to help students who started college, but have not been able to complete their degree, to earn an associate degree in business administration or criminal justice. There are over 400,000 people in Dallas who have some college, but without the degree that is important to improving their job prospects. DCC will allow students to take StraighterLine coursework which can be done online and at their own pace to earn up to 75 percent of their degree requirements.

Marylhurst University / Epicodus / Climb

This program will offer students a 27-week certificate in Web and Mobile Development with the goal of providing access to careers in computer software coding for low-income and historically underserved students. The program will implement a paired coding model where students learn together, and a flipped classroom approach. Additionally, to help ensure that students with limited ingoing experience actually connect to jobs, Marylhurst is partnering with employers that will offer internships and employment upon program completion.

Northeastern University / General Electric / American Council on Education

This site will launch an accelerated program for a bachelor’s Degree in Advanced Manufacturing. Partners are testing out a new model of leveraging an employer to provide job-skills training based on their in-depth knowledge of the industry’s needs. GE will provide experiential and workforce training in person and online with an emphasis on skills that are needed for jobs in advanced manufacturing, and Northeastern will co-develop the curricula and provide academic support services.

SUNY Empire State College / The Flatiron School / American National Standards Institute

The program will offer a certificate in Web Development. It builds on the Flatiron School’s existing bootcamp program by extending the length of the program and offering more robust support services for lower-income students, including a dedicated social worker to help students through issues such as obtaining food stamps and finding transportation to the program. This partnership will leverage Flatiron’s extensive employer network, both to ensure it is highly targeted at job needs and to give students post-graduation employment opportunities.

Thomas Edison State College / / Quality Matters

This program will allow students to take online coursework from alongside traditional courses to enable them to learn more flexibly and at their own pace. Quality Matters (QM), a self-supporting, non-profit online quality assurance provider that serves over 900 higher education institutions and has certified 6,000 online and blended courses, will serve as the quality assurance entity.

University of Texas - Austin / MakerSquare / Entangled Solutions and Moody, Famiglietti & Andronico, LLP

The University of Texas at Austin proposes to partner with MakerSquare-a coding and software bootcamp-to offer a 13-week certificate program in Web Development. Students will learn a range of programming skills, including JavaScript and functional web computer programming, to prepare them for jobs as mid-level software engineers. The program will be continuously evaluated by two quality assurance entities: Entangled Solutions and Moody, Famiglietti & Andronico, LLP (MFA). Entangled Solutions will have responsibility for setting and monitoring outcomes-based standards for the program including claims for learning, assessments, student work, placement rates, earnings growth, and student satisfaction, while MFA will provide independent auditing to verify the program's reported data, particularly for employment outcomes.

Wilmington University / Zip Code Wilmington / Hacker Rank

Wilmington will be working with Zip Code Wilmington, a nonprofit software development organization, to offer a 15-credit, 12-week boot camp in Software Development that will provide students with skills to pursue an entry-level position using Java programming language. The program will seek to employ students with one of its many corporate partners, who are stepping up to offer job opportunities and subsidizing some of the costs of the program to supplement federal aid for low-income students.