ED’s Expanded Experimental Sites Initiative Aims To Help Nontraditional Students With College Completion

By Erin Timmons, Communications Staff

The Department of Education (ED) announced Tuesday a new round of “experimental sites” that will test new and innovative practices to help students in achieving academic and career success. Under the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965, as amended, the Experimental Sites Initiative (ESI) permits ED to waive specific statutory or regulatory requirements at participating postsecondary institutions. ED can then compare the results achieved from the experiments with results under current regulations and determine whether system wide regulatory or statutory changes are needed.

In keeping with the college affordability agenda President Obama rolled out last summer, the experimental site schools will be able to offer aid for competency-based programs where students are able to progress at their own pace and for prior-learning assessments, which may be particularly helpful for nontraditional or adult learners.

In December 2013, the Secretary of Education called for institutions of higher education that participate in the Title IV student assistance programs, along with other parties, to propose ideas for new institutionally-based experiments that would test alternative ways of administering Title IV aid as part of the ongoing ESI. Based on the proposals and feedback received, ED has given certain institutions approval to design and test new approaches to student financial aid in order to meet the needs of specific student groups. Schools involved in experiments will have the regulatory flexibility to:

  • Provide federal aid to students enrolled in self-paced competency-based education programs in order to tie funding to how much a student earns rather than just hours spent in a classroom;
  • Offer programs that have a combination of direct assessment and credit hour coursework;
  • Accept federal student aid as payment for prior-learning assessments, which could shorten the length of time-to-degree, particularly for nontraditional students; and to 
  • Encourage that federal work-study funds be used for college readiness and financial literacy mentorship programs between college and high school students.

More information about the experimental sites will be published this week in the Federal Register and on experimentalsites.ed.gov.


Publication Date: 7/24/2014

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