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Expanding Pathways to Success After High School, U.S. Department of Education Approves First Innovative EQUIP Experiment

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Education announced today that Brookhaven College, part of the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD), is the first to receive final approval to enroll students in the Educational Quality through Innovation Partnerships (EQUIP) experiment. Experimental sites, like this one, give the Department flexibility to waive specific statutory or regulatory requirements associated with disbursing Title IV student aid in order to assess the efficacy of innovative educational solutions.

Through the EQUIP experiment, students will be allowed, for the first time, to use federal student aid to enroll in programs offered by innovative, nontraditional education providers that are partnering with accredited colleges or universities. These partnerships seek to expand educational opportunities for students while experimenting with new quality assurance and accountability mechanisms. After rigorous analysis and approval by both the institution's accrediting agency and the Department, Brookhaven is set to begin collaborating with StraighterLine, an online provider of self-paced educational courses. Students who have some college but no credential will be able to complete up to two-thirds of a DCCCD associate's degree with a concentration in business or criminal justice by enrolling in StraighterLine courses. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation will provide quality assurance oversight of the DCCCD EQUIP experiment.

"Nontraditional students comprise the fastest growing student segment in higher education," said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. "These students are looking for new, more efficient and lower-cost ways to earn workplace-relevant credentials, oftentimes while working and raising a family. Through these experimental sites, we can provide students with new options that, until now, existed only outside of the federal financial aid system."

As a result of restrictions outlined in the Higher Education Act, a college or university receiving federal student aid cannot allow a non-accredited education provider to deliver more than 50 percent of an educational program. Meanwhile, some of these non-accredited providers offer the most innovative solutions to help students enter the workplace more quickly and considerably boost their earnings. The EQUIP experiment provides an exemption from the normal federal student aid rules, allowing a nontraditional provider to exceed the 50 percent cap, thereby providing low-income students with greater access to new types of programs.

EQUIP experiment applications were evaluated on five criteria:

  • Innovating to Improve Outcomes: The extent to which the proposed activities will produce innovative, high-quality programs likely to lead to positive student learning and employment outcomes;
  • Equity and Access: The extent to which the programs will provide equitable access to high-quality postsecondary education programs, particularly for students from low-income backgrounds;
  • Quality Assurance: The extent to which the proposed quality assurance processes have the potential to address key questions about how best to evaluate and ensure the quality of these programs and nontraditional providers;
  • Affordability: The extent to which the programs are affordable;
  • Student and Taxpayer Protections: Particularly for programs in which students will have access to federal student loans, the strength of proposed student and taxpayer protections.