Perspectives

Congress Begins Conference Process: Short-Term Pell, Apprenticeship Hang in Balance

Last year, Congress set a goal to pass legislation focused on improving American competitiveness in the areas of science and technology. However, the Senate and the House each passed their own versions of the bills, now collectively referred to as the Bipartisan Innovation Act. The bills focus on research funding, energy and national resources, and trade, especially in areas such as semiconductor manufacturing. While these main areas all fall under international economic competitiveness, there is a key role for higher education in these pursuits, through both research and workforce development to support them.

Congress is now tasked with combining the individual bills –H.R. 4521 – America COMPETES Act of 2022in the House and S. 1260 – United States Innovation and Completion Act of 2021 (USICA)in the Senate– into one Bipartisan Innovation Act. These two bills share many common programs but also have several areas of difference that must be resolved. The process of combining the bills will be a formal conference committee. This entails House and the Senate leadership appointing members from select jurisdictions to a committee to come up with a final proposal that resolves any differences between the two bills. The committee is large, with nearly 100 Representatives from the House and a quarter of the Senate participating. However, with more than a dozen committees of jurisdiction covered in the bills, the input of many elected officials is needed.

Community colleges should specifically be interested in several programs. The Telecommunications Workforce Training Grant Program is included in both bills. Community colleges are one of the eligible entities for partnership in this program to provide training in the telecommunications field. However, several other provisions are only included in the House COMPETES Act. These include a reauthorization of the National Apprenticeship Act, the College Transparency Act, and most importantly: a federal workforce Pell Grant. This newly named grant is not a new program, but rather would allow for workforce development programs as short as 150 clock hours to be included in Pell Grant eligibility. To learn more about the specifics of these programs, please see the factsheet here.

The creation of a short-term Pell Grant program has long been a top priority for community colleges. The inclusion in the House COMPETES Act is the closest this policy goal has come to reality. The goal of this potential new law is to create American competitiveness. Funding for short-term Pell Grants is a natural fit to support this goal as participating in workforce development programs allows students to quickly increase their skill level and earning potential. For a student to receive these workforce Pell dollars, the program in which they are participating must increase their earnings and put them on a path to further certificate or degree programs. This requirement means the student benefits quickly, but also has the possibility for future advancement. This future advancement is good for both the individual student but also the community as a whole given the shift in labor markets due to the pandemic and coming changes that would be necessary to support the goals of the Bipartisan Innovation Act.

ACCT will continue to advocate for the importance of access to Pell dollars for students seeking these workforce development programs. To stay up to date on the latest in our efforts, including opportunities to participate in future advocacy campaigns, please sign up for our E-Alert: Latest Action in Washington (LAW) by emailing publicpolicy@acct.org.

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