StraighterLine finds support from US Dept. of Education - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Aug. 17, 2016 12:59 pm

StraighterLine finds support from US Dept. of Education

The online college course provider joins coding academies selected for the Obama administration's $17 million EQUIP program.
StraighterLine CEO Burck Smith.

StraighterLine CEO Burck Smith.

(Photo by Stephen Babcock)

A Baltimore edtech company is among a handful of entities selected for a new federal program that’s backing new approaches to higher education.

Under the U.S. Department of Education’s Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP), StraighterLine will team with a Texas community college to offer its lower-cost online college courses for general education.

For two associate’s degree programs offered at the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD), StraighterLine will provide up to 75 percent of the coursework. The prices for those courses will be more in StraighterLine’s realm of $99 per credit.

Students taking the StraighterLine courses will be eligible for federal financial aid, which is a big change. For EQUIP, the Obama administration is effectively waiving rules that said students could not receive aid if 50 percent of the coursework came from another entity.

"What it really signifies is greater market adoption for the solutions we've been talking about for a long time."
Burck Smith, StraighterLine

From a national perspective, the program is a step toward acceptance that nontraditional education offerings can provide higher education access to people who can’t afford college, who want skills that aren’t taught there or both. It will be closely watched.

The Wall Street Journal noted a “shift in the Obama administration’s approach,” while EdSurge identified it as an “experiment.” But to StraighterLine CEO Burck Smith, it’s another sign that his eight-year-old company’s model can be a legitimate pathway for students.

“What it really signifies is greater market adoption for the solutions we’ve been talking about for a long time,” Smith said.

StraighterLine offers mostly general education courses to nontraditional students looking to save money before formally enrolling in programs. The Federal Hill-based company and DCCCD previously worked together to allow students to transfer credit from StraighterLine courses to the community college. Now they will be part of the college curriculum, which “takes it one step further,” Smith said. The coursework and outcomes will be evaluated by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

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The partnership between the Federal Hill-based company and DCCCD is one of eight that were selected for the program. Another emphasis of the program is on providing access to coding skills, with Zip Code Wilmington, Makersquare and the New York-based Flatiron School. (Sister site Technical.ly Delaware has the details on the Zip Code news.) General Electric is the biggest company selected, partnering with Northeastern University on advanced manufacturing training.

The government will provide funding through $5 million in Pell grants, and is expecting about 1,500 students overall in the first year. Another $12 million in loans is also being opened up.

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