- The U.S. Department of Education on Wednesday unveiled the Educational Quality Through Innovation Partnerships (EQUIP) program, an experimental pathway to Title IV funding for partnerships between higher ed institutions and nontraditional programs.
- The program has been brewing for some time under the experimental sites initiative, though it will remain limited to about 10 applications from applicable partnerships.
- Likely candidates for participation in the pilot include coding bootcamps, MOOC providers, and various short-term certificate and corporate training programs, and according to Inside Higher Ed, inclusion will also give institutions freedom from a federal aid ban on colleges that outsource over half of their content or instruction to an unaccredited third party.
The move comes as alternative credentialing models gain traction, particularly in the tech world. Coding bootcamps have become a particularly popular alternative to traditional higher education, with programs like for-profit MOOC provider Coursera's Specializations not far behind.
Such programs have presented higher ed with a challenge, perhaps most notably in respect to continuing education. Despite their unaccredited status, bootcamps and similar alternative credentialing programs offer students looking to pick up new skills to further their careers an enticing deal via a lower price tag and shorter time commitment.
But colleges and universities have also begun adapting: Within the last week, Lynn University announced a partnership with coding bootcamp General Assembly that will see undergrads “study abroad” at a coding campus for 16 weeks in exchange for 15 credits. This type of collaboration is also, of course, what the EQUIP program is intended to serve.
It was only a matter of time before traditional higher ed caught on, but not everyone is so excited about the prospects. There are those across the postsecondary landscape, from institutions and policymakers to the bootcamps themselves, who see the potential for a decline into what the oft-criticized for-profit college sector has become if federal accreditation and access to aid are provided. The Century Foundation's Robert Shireman and Bloc COO Clint Schmidt are among those who have urged caution in recent weeks.