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The U.S. Department of Education has approved the first program under its Educational Quality Through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP) initiative.

StraighterLine, an unaccredited online course provider, will partner with Brookhaven College in Texas to offer a joint associate degree to students this August. Students will complete more than 50 percent of their course work online through the StraighterLine platform.

The partnership is the first of eight programs selected by EQUIP to receive formal approval. The goal of the EQUIP initiative, launched in 2015, was to help create pathways for students to use federal financial aid toward credentials from nontraditional providers.

The EQUIP initiative has been divisive among higher education leaders, with some questioning the wisdom of federal financial aid being channeled to for-profit companies.