Federal Aid Pilot Program Extends to Online Certificates, Boot Camps


A new pilot program could allow thousands of students to become eligible for federal financial aid by offering certificates and college credit for non-traditional classes, including "boot-camp" style academic training courses and online certificate programs.

The three-year program announced by the US Department of Education is geared toward giving aid to low-income students who may not be able to afford the courses otherwise, allowing them to stay away from for-profit schools. The pilot program widens the pool of programs eligible to receive federal student aid and loans, as only programs offered by accredited schools were included before.

"There are some indications that students enrolled in many of these programs may have impressive learning gains and impressive employment success," Ted Mitchell, undersecretary of education, said. "But since many of these are standalone efforts outside of accredited institutions that offer financial aid, many students from low-income backgrounds cannot access them."

In order to participate in the program, colleges and universities would be required to create partnerships with non-traditional educational providers such as those that provide short-term intensive training programs on subjects including web design, software coding and data science.

The DOE predicts the number of students who will graduate from coding boot camps to increase by around 240% this year, rising from 6,700 students last year to over 16,000, reports Jennifer Kerr for PBS. Men with non-degree certificates were found to earn an average of $72,000 per year, a higher yearly salary than 72% of men who hold traditional associate's degrees.

These sorts of new partnerships "should prepare students for jobs that are available in that region at that time, providing the student with a great salary boost," said senior department official David Soo.

In addition, academic credit could be received that would allow students to continue their post-secondary education.

Third-party companies would work alongside the colleges and universities to ensure that the programs meet the schools' standards. The school's accrediting agency would also need to determine whether or not the program fits within the school's accreditation.

A number of complaints concerning over-priced courses that offer little in the way of future job prospects to veterans and other students has caused education officials to come down on for-profit schools. Last spring found Corinthian Colleges charged with a $30 million fine after it was discovered they had misrepresented job placement rates. The company was also ordered to stop enrolling students, which caused the schools to shut down quickly, leaving around 16,000 students without a school.

It is unknown what the effect of the program will be on overall student debt.

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