College and all its ancillary costs (books, housing, food, supplies, and extracurriculars), can come at a crushing cost, particularly for students that aren’t bankrolled by deep-pocketed parents. Student loan debt is at a whopping $1.2 trillion. That reality coupled with the widening wealth gap in this country means that Americans need more opportunities to help them to get into and stay in the middle class.
In October the Department of Education rolled out the Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP) program to address the financial gap through a technical training initiatives. EQUIP will lend money to students enrolled in coding bootcamps, certificate programs, and other non-traditional educational programs at partner institutions. This effort will serve as a great case study for the federal agency to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs on a number of criteria, including educational access for low-income students and employment outcomes.
This “experiment” with granting federal loans for attending coding bootcamps is exciting to say the least. The move shows that the federal government is willing to be innovative and flexible in developing solutions to the growing technical and economic gap among our nation’s citizens. Additionally, the Department of Education is adapting the tech ethos in this new initiative by doing what programmers do every time they run a bit of code — to test out an idea and see if it works. While EQUIP is not a panacea, this commitment to addressing the technical knowledge gap by making courses more accessible and affordable is worth learning about.
Some key questions that I am interested in learning more about EQUIP: How will the bootcamps and certificate program recruit low-income students? Will these recruitment methods be culturally competent? What support services will be provided for students to take advantage of? How will these programs and schools effectively communicate their “worthiness” to students with little to no knowledge about educational quality? For example, if you are coming from a low-income family, telling a parent you are enrolling in a 16-week “computer” class will likely be met with a different reaction than if you are enrolling in nursing classes at the local community college. Narratives around educational attainment are deeply ingrained and can be hard to get around. Addressing these cultural gaps could be a great move.
Any attempt at helping students, particularly those with the least means of affording education, to get a shot at gaining material skills is a net positive. Whether or not it will be enough to solve the wealth gap is yet to be seen, but taking a scientific approach in developing a solution can’t hurt. At the very least the Department of Education will learn an insightful lesson.
Terryn is a Detroit based writer and digital strategist interested in the intersection of technology, diversity, books, and social justice. She's written for a number of publications, served as a cohost for the PostBourgie podcast, and was a reviewer panelist for NPR's Earbud.fm, a tool for discovering podcasts. You can find her writing online at tinyletter.com/terryn.