Low-income students will soon be able to get federal aid to attend coding bootcamps

Coding bootcamps can be quite costly. In order to combat that, the U.S. Department of Education has launched a new experimental initiative in partnership with colleges and universities to enable students to pay for certain coding bootcamps using federal financial aid. Through the Educational Quality through Innovation Partnerships, students will be able to apply for federal financial aid to enroll in one of eight coding bootcamps, online courses or employer programs.

Of the eight programs recently selected to participate in EQUIP, four of them are coding bootcamps: The Flatiron School partnered with SUNY Empire State College to offer a certificate program in web development, MakerSquare partnered with the University of Texas-Austin to offer a 13-week web development certificate program, Zip Code Wilmington partnered with Wilmington University to offer a 12-week software development bootcamp and Epicodus partnered with Marylhurst University to offer a 27-week web and mobile development certificate program. The next step is for these bootcamps to set up their programs and submit them to the Department of Education for final approval.

Over the last few years, coding bootcamps have emerged as an alternative way to access the skills you need to get into the tech industry, without needing to attend a traditional college or university. The caveat is that these programs can be pretty expensive, averaging about $11,000 per student, according to Course Report, a database of information and reviews on coding bootcamps. Some bootcamps do offer financial assistance to students, but until now, applying for federal financial aid was not an option. Meanwhile, some questions have been raised about the legitimacy and overall effectiveness of certain bootcamps. In order to hold these coding bootcamps accountable, EQUIP requires all of these “non-traditional” programs to also partner with a third-party quality assurance entity.

The experiment’s goals entail testing additional ways for people to affordably access education that has been shown to lead to good jobs, “but that fall outside the current financial aid system” and “promote and measure college access, affordability, and student outcomes,” according to the fact sheet. In the first year, about 1,500 students will be eligible for $5 million in Pell Grants, which can go toward paying for classes.

“You know, what sets this off is that higher education has never mattered so much to so many as a means of social mobility, as an engine of our economy, and as a way for individuals to better themselves and move into the middle class,” Department of Education Under Secretary Ted Mitchell said on a press call. “Finally, I think it’s important to recognize, especially this season, that higher education, education in general, are one of the bulwarks of a functioning civil society and our diverse democracy.”