Pell Grant Expansion Pilot Announced

by Rachel Zinn
October 16, 2015

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced a new pilot program, Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP), which would extend eligibility for federal student aid to participants in certain short-term training programs.

To qualify for the pilot program, colleges or universities need to apply in partnership with non-institutional providers and a third-party “Quality Assurance Entity.” This third-party entity will monitor whether students are gaining knowledge, acquiring skills, and being prepared for employment. 

Institutions that want to participate in the pilot must submit a letter of interest that describes metrics and strategies for ensuring the quality of funded programs. ED encourages programs that have a primary goal of getting people into jobs to consider a number of employment metrics, such as job placement in the field of study, time between program completion and employment, and rates of passage on certification and licensing exams.

Most of the data required for these sample metrics is currently unavailable in Unemployment Insurance wage records, the main source of data used by many workforce development programs to measure whether participants go on to get jobs and how much they earn. For example, these wage records do not contain occupation data, so it would be difficult to determine whether graduates got a job in their field of study. In addition, most schools (and states) cannot connect to data on certifications and licenses.

Unless data on occupation and credentials becomes more available, institutions and their partners in the pilot will likely have to devote staff time to following up with program graduates. This pilot could help determine whether this approach is feasible and can accurately measure program results. Developing reliable measurement techniques is vital for ensuring that federal aid is used for programs that provide real benefits to students. 

Ideally, the EQUIP pilot will help low-income students access flexible, innovative programs of demonstrable quality that might be closed to them without use of federal Pell Grants.