US DoE Promotes Educational Innovation Partnerships

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

The United Stated Department of Education has invited eight selected partnerships between institutions of higher education and non-traditional providers to be involved in the Educational Quality through Innovation Partnerships (EQUIP) experiment.

The partnerships look to allow students for the first time to access federal student aid in order to enroll in programs offered by non-traditional training providers in partnership with colleges and universities.  The partnerships, which would mainly focus on low-income students, include coding bootcamps, online courses, and employer organizations, among other things.

The experiment has a number of goals, including to test new ways to allow all Americans to access learning and training opportunities in an effort to lead to good job opportunities that are not currently included in the financial aid system.  In addition, the experiment looks to increase approaches for outcomes-based quality assurance processes that look toward student learning in addition to other outcomes.

College access, affordability, and student outcomes will all be measured and promoted by the experiment.

EQUIP is currently located under the Experimental Sites Initiatives, which take a closer look at the effectiveness of statutory and regulatory flexibility for postsecondary institutions that offer federal financial aid.  The department hopes the EQUIP program will offer information about these new models and their costs as well as educational and employment outcomes for students, in addition to suggestions for new models that would measure quality.  The department is also looking to the program to help inform future policy reforms.

“I’m thrilled that students will soon have access to these innovative programs, developed in partnership with colleges and new providers, with the help of federal financial aid,” said Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell. “As these innovative programs continue to develop, it will be increasingly important to understand what an outcomes-based quality assurance system looks like for such programs. I am encouraged to see that these colleges, providers, and quality assurance entities have stepped forward to provide models for doing so.”

Through the program, federal financial aid will be offered to eligible students who are currently enrolled in programs at the selected institutions with non-traditional providers.  The Higher Education Act does not allow colleges and universities to receive federal financial aid for programs that provides at least half of the content and instruction through an ineligible entity rather than from the institution.  However, EQUIP will allow students at these selected schools to receive federal financial aid for programs that go above the 50% cap, which in turn will increase access for students to a number of new programs while also allowing the department to consider whether the programs will end up having positive student outcomes as well as how to best track meaningful quality measures.

Each partnership will be reviewed and monitored by an independent, third-party quality assurance entity, QAE.  Schools and non-traditional providers will be held accountable by QAEs through the assessment of student outcomes, which include learning and employment as well as the management of the program.  In addition, each school’s accrediting agency is required to conclude that any and all new programs fall within the institution’s accreditation.