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Pilot program offers financial aid for nontraditional education

By
Amy R. Connolly
U.S. Department of Education Undersecretary Ted Mitchell speaks to Gaithersburg High School in Maryland in February 2015. Tuesday, Mitchell announced a new program aimed at giving students access to federal loans and grants for alternative education coursework. Photo by U.S. Department of Education/Flickr
U.S. Department of Education Undersecretary Ted Mitchell speaks to Gaithersburg High School in Maryland in February 2015. Tuesday, Mitchell announced a new program aimed at giving students access to federal loans and grants for alternative education coursework. Photo by U.S. Department of Education/Flickr

WASHINGTON, Oct. 14 (UPI) -- Students who are seeking alternative higher-education degrees or certifications -- including "boot-camp" style academic training classes and online certificate programs -- now have access to federal dollars to pay for the coursework.

The U.S. Department of Education announced a pilot program that loosens the restrictions previously only allowing accredited schools to receive and distribute federal student aid. The Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships program will allow students who enroll in experimental programs approved by the Education Department to get such aid.

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The pilot program is aimed at giving students, especially low-income students, access to the programs they need to succeed and steer them away from predatory for-profit schools.

"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."

The department estimates a growing number of students are turning to alternative education to meet their needs. In 2015, coding bootcamps are expected to grow the number of students they graduate by 240 percent, from 6,740 in 2014 to more than 16,000. Men with non-degree certificates in computer/information services earned $72,000 per year, which is on average more than 72 percent of men with traditional associate's degrees, the department said.

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Education officials and state prosecutors have cracked down on for-profit colleges in recent years after a deluge of complaints they exploit veterans and other students with overpriced courses that give little return. In late April, Corinthian Colleges, which operated Everest, Heald and Wyotech, was slapped with a $30 million fine for misrepresenting job-placement rates and ordered to stop enrolling students in California. The school abruptly shut its doors nationwide, stranding some 16,000 students.

It is unclear what kind of effect, if any, the experimental program will have on overall student loan debt, a flashpoint of controversy across the country. Experts say some of the $103 billion in student loan debt default is from students who attended for-profit colleges. Overall, an estimated $1.2 trillion in student loans is outstanding.

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