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Lawmakers Propose Expanding Pell Grants for Workforce Training

Lawmakers Propose Expanding Pell Grants for Workforce Training

A group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced legislation Dec. 5 that would allow students, for the first time, to apply for Pell Grants for short-term workforce training programs.

Pell Grants are need-based education grants for low-income and working students. Currently students can only use Pell Grants for expenses at two- and four-year colleges or universities. Expanding Pell Grant eligibility would help close the nation's skills gap and give low-income and working students the opportunity to learn new skills quickly, lawmakers said.

The Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act "will allow Pell Grants to be used for high-quality short-term programs that equip students to join our workforce immediately," said Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., chief sponsor of the legislation. Stefanik was joined by Reps. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Va., and Mark DeSaulnier, D-Calif., in introducing the bill.

"Currently, you cannot use a Pell Grant for short-term training programs, like IT or welding courses," Scott said. "As a result, many adults cannot afford to attend or complete courses that will help them get good-paying jobs and compete in the modern economy. This is a disservice to our students, workers, and employers."

Under current law, only students enrolled in programs that run at least 16 weeks are eligible. The Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act would expand Pell Grant eligibility to workforce programs between eight and 15 weeks in length.

To decide if a program is  eligible program, a state workforce board must first determine:

  • That the program provides education aligned with high-skill, high-wage or in-demand industry sectors or occupations.
  • Meets the hiring requirements of potential in-demand industry or sector employers.
  • Satisfies any applicable educational prerequisite requirement for professional licensure or certification in the state or states in which the program is offered.

The bill also creates a quality assurance system for the programs, requires that program prices are aligned with economic value, and outlines a process for recognized accreditors to oversee the programs at the institutions they accredit. 

Grants cannot be used for programs that would lead to a master’s, doctorate, or other post-graduate degree, or by students who have already attained a degree. Correspondence courses in which students don’t have regular interaction with teachers would not be eligible, however, the bill would not exclude online programs, which had been a key sticking point in earlier negotiations.

The Workforce Pell Grants would be available starting in 2025.

SHRM Chief of Staff and Head of Public Affairs Emily M. Dickens said that "SHRM has consistently advocated that Pell Grants expand to cover quality short-term programs. The Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act also demonstrates what members of Congress from both parties working together can do for our economy, our nation and the workforce. In the modern economy, expanding opportunities to deliver high-quality training that benefits workers and employers alike is critical."

Policymakers from both sides of the aisle have for years advocated for expanding Pell Grants to include short-term workforce programs, but details have snagged the successful passage of those proposals.

Proponents of expanding Pell eligibility to short-term training programs point to the growing acceptance of short-term credentials which help people move quickly into in-demand occupations and would enable more upskilling or retraining to address skills mismatches.

Those skeptical of expanding Pell Grants caution that the funding could subsidize low-value programs that do not lead to positive returns for students.

Different companion proposals are currently floating around in the Senate, including:

  • The JOBS Act, introduced in January, sponsored by Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Mike Braun, R-Ind.
  • The PELL Act, introduced in July by Sen. Ted Budd, R-N.C.

The Biden administration has expressed an interest in expanding Pell Grants for short-term programs, though it hasn't endorsed any of the introduced legislation.


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