Feds offering Pell grants and loans to students in unconventional higher ed programs

Posted September 4

High school graduates looking for the next level of career training may have new, more flexible options if a new pilot program by the U.S. Department of Education works out.

The program called Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships fosters efforts that pair a nontraditional program with a traditional college or university. The pilot will start with eight programs this year, offering Pell grants and student loans to students participating in eight innovative programs that previously would not be eligible for financial aid.

The department hopes to offer $5 million in Pell grants and up to $12 million in loans for students in the programs.

“While America has some of the best colleges and universities in the world, as a system, we’re still catching up to the needs of today’s college student … who may be a 24-year-old returning veteran, a 36-year-old single mother or a part-time student juggling work and college,” Ted Mitchell, undersecretary of education, said on a call with reporters. “The faces we picture as our college hopefuls can’t be limited by any factor, including inflexible or unaffordable higher education options.”

The pilot, first announced in October, invited institutions to submit programs for the pilot. The department then selected eight programs, each of which has three partners: a traditional school, a nontraditional partner, such as a corporation, and a nonprofit outside evaluator for quality assurance.

Several of the test programs are 12-week coding boot camps, while another is a partnership between SUNY Empire State and the Flatiron School, a New York City-based coding school, to offer Web Development certificates.

“Our role is … to ensure students’ experience and outcomes are meeting the claims of the program, students interests are protected and the federal financial aid award is merited,” Deb Adair told The Washington Post. Adair is executive director of Quality Matters, which will oversee the partnership between Thomas Edison State College and

“The end goal is to provide the criteria and transparency for the program to demonstrate how well it can meet rigorous standards and how it can improve on the measures that define and support student success,” she said.

There is also a partnership between Thomas Edison State University and for a bachelor of science in business administration and a bachelor of arts in liberal studies using online, self-paced video courses.

Perhaps the most ambitious program is one pairing General Electric with Northeastern University in Boston for a B.S. in advanced manufacturing.

“Many manufacturers face challenges in finding employees with specialized skills and training involved in manufacturing operations,’’ GE spokesperson Todd Alhart told USA Today in an email. “And with new digital technologies like 3-D printing, new skill sets are emerging that are rapidly changing workforce needs. That is why participating in programs like EQUIP with Northeastern University are so important.’’



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