Obama administration expands access to student aid

Amy Scott Aug 16, 2016
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The Obama administration announced new funding for education in the form of skills training.  Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Obama administration expands access to student aid

Amy Scott Aug 16, 2016
The Obama administration announced new funding for education in the form of skills training.  Spencer Platt/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Since 2012, the Flatiron School has turned out about a thousand graduates of its coding boot camps, most of whom land jobs as software engineers. The company charges $12,000 to $15,000 for intensive three- to five-month courses.

It’s pricey, but “It comes with a job guarantee,” said co-founder and CEO Adam Endbar. “If you’re not employed within six months, we will give you a full refund.”

For the first time, Flatiron students will soon have access to federal financial aid to help pay for the program, under a new experiment announced Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education.

The federal government spends more than $150 billion a year helping students pay for college, in the form of grants, loans and work-study funds. Traditionally, students can only access that money if they go to an accredited community college, university or trade school. The new pilot program will make up to $17 million available for nontraditional training and education programs.

The eight providers range from coding boot camps like Flatiron to General Electric. GE will team up with Northeastern University of offer training in advanced manufacturing at one of the company’s jet-engine plants. Other providers include StraighterLine and Study.com, companies that offer relatively inexpensive online courses.

The Flatiron School will partner with the State University of New York to offer college credit and certificates in web development. Eligible students who receive federal financial aid will make payments to SUNY, which will pay Flatiron to teach the courses, Enbar said.

The program represents a recent shift in thinking about higher education, he said.

“While college is certainly a great way to achieve a higher education, maybe there are other ways to attain a higher education that can lead to a great career that are not that system,” Enbar said.

White alternatives to college have been growing, they’ve been available mostly to people who can pay, said analyst Howard Lurie with the research firm Eduventures.

“I think what this does is expand the potential pool of people who could benefit from that type of immersive experience,” he said.

Expanding access to federal financial aid is raising some eyebrows, after the Obama administration has cracked down on abuses by for-profit colleges. Seven of the eight nontraditional providers in the pilot are for-profit companies.

Those companies must not only partner with traditional credited colleges, but each partnership will be monitored by an independent third party, said U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell.

“We are less concerned with tax status,” Mitchell said, “and more concerned with outcomes.”

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