House Committee Passes Workforce Pell & WIOA Reauthorization
As we wrap up the first half of the 118th Congress, very little can be said about this year’s legislative activity, as it consistently stalled due to the razor-thin majorities in both chambers, an ousted speaker, and a contentious appropriations cycle.
Despite these hurdles, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce achieved notable progress for student access and workforce development just before the holiday recess. After nearly a year of closed-door negotiations, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA), Representative Stefanik (R-NY), and Representative DeSaulnier (D-CA) introduced H.R. 6585, Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act. Additionally, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) also introduced H.R. 6655, A Stronger Workforce for America Act. Both bills were marked up and successfully voted out of committee on December 12, 2023.
H.R. 6585, Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act
Community colleges have long advocated for extending Pell Grant eligibility to include short-term workforce programs. This priority remains central for our institutions, especially as there's a substantial surge in demand for these programs, with a notable 9.9% increase in enrollment for short-term programs observed in Fall 2023.
Nevertheless, stakeholders and lawmakers historically disagreed on whether to include proprietary institutions or online programs and on how to establish appropriate guardrails. This division resulted in a partisan stalemate, adversely affecting students seeking to enhance their skillsets through these programs. We are thrilled to see both parties putting students first and coming together to introduce the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act
The legislation incorporates key components from the JOBS Act, PELL Act, and the Jobs to Compete Act, extending Pell eligibility to programs spanning 8 to 15 weeks (150 to 600 clock hours). It introduces robust guardrails, including completion and placement metrics, value-added metrics, and eligibility determinations by entities such as local workforce boards, accreditation boards, and the Department of Education.
The bill also includes several pieces that have raised concerns. Under current House rules, there is a “cut-as-you-go” (CUT-GO) provision that prohibits the House from considering legislation that will increase mandatory spending. Therefore, to offset the mandatory spending, there is a “pay-for” embedded that would prohibit certain four-year institutions with large endowments from awarding federal student loans. It also allows online programs and proprietary institutions to qualify for Workforce Pell grants, which has left many lawmakers with questions on how to prevent bad actors from defrauding students.
H.R. 6655, A Stronger Workforce for America Act
Bolstering the role of community colleges in the federal workforce development system is crucial for our institutions, and reauthorizing WIOA is key to achieving this goal. This bill reauthorizes the 1988 Workforce Investment Act and the 2014 Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act, which are long overdue.
Of particular interest, it authorizes the Strengthening Community College Workforce Development Grant program, currently known as Strengthening Community College Training Grants, at $65 million. This program, established through the appropriations process and on its fourth funding cycle, enhances the capacity of community colleges in addressing workforce development needs within in-demand industries and career pathways.
ACCT sent a letter to committee leadership further outlining our appreciation and feedback regarding both bills, the letter can be found here. We will continue to monitor these bills and collaborate with stakeholders as they progress through the legislative process.
Rosario Durán is the Senior Government Relations Associate at ACCT.