Community colleges have long offered a variety of workforce-oriented programs intended to help students gain skills and knowledge for a specific career or occupation. Among these are short-term workforce credentials designed to teach students a specific skillset related to an occupation – often in response to local labor market needs.These programs tend to run anywhere from 5 –14 weeks in length depending on the sector and occupation.
In recent years, the demand for these short-term workforce programs has continued to increase as students look for faster trajectories to upskill themselves and increase their earning potential. Community colleges have seen a 33% increase in the number of conferred certificates below the associate degree level from the 2010-11 academic year to the 2020-21academic year.
Despite the growing demand, short-term workforce programs that are shorter than 15 weeks in duration have historically been ineligible for Title IV funding. This legislative clause has hamstrung thousands of Pell grant eligible students from pursuing in-demand certificate programs and industry-recognized credentials.
Extending Pell eligibility to short-term workforce programs has been a top priority for community colleges over the last several years and after years of fierce advocacy efforts it has become a hot topic in Congress.
Increasingly referred to as “Workforce Pell,” or sometimes still as “Short-term Pell,” the concept has bipartisan support. Since the start of the 118th Congress, there are now three proposals in the House of Representatives, and one in the Senate, on the best way to implement these changes in the Pell Grant program.
The Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act was reintroduced with bipartisan sponsors in both the House and the Senate. Additionally, the leaders of the House Education and Workforce Committee each support an additional, partisan proposal for designing the Workforce Pell program—both of which would establish economic value-measures and set a bar for program eligibility. Committee chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) is a co-sponsor of Rep. Elise Stefanik’s (R-NY) Promoting Employment and Lifelong Learning (PELL) Act. According to a recent Urban Institute report, 81% of programs offered by public institutions would pass the requirements outlined in the PELL Act. Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced his own bill called the Jobs to Compete Act.
Given the consensus on the topic area, we hope that federal lawmakers will come together in a bipartisan fashion to address this urgent matter, so our students can access this crucial aid to support their career development. For an in-depth analysis of the proposed short-term Pell bills, ACCT has compiled fact sheets on the JOBS Act, PELL Act, and Jobs to Compete Act.
ACCT will continue to monitor these three bills and work with Congress to provide technical assistance on the best possible design.
Rosario Durán is the Senior Government Relations Associate at ACCT
Carrie Warick-Smith is the Vice President for Public Policy at ACCT