Latest Pell Grant proposal would fund skills training, close workforce gaps
'With more than 11 million unfilled jobs in the United States, and more than six million Americans unemployed, Republican lawmakers pointed out the importance of addressing the skills gap.'
In a recent poll, '72% of young adults who have university degrees say that college did not fully prepare them to start a career.'
A new bill being considered by the House would extend Pell grants to "workers looking to gain skills in high-demand fields."
Dubbed the "Promoting Employment and Lifelong Learning (PELL) Act," US HR496 is an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965. If passed, the bill would make federal Pell grants available for "certain short-term workforce programs.”
“Federal Pell Grants usually are awarded only to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need and have not earned a bachelor's, graduate, or professional degree,” according to a Department of Education (DOEd) website.
Rep. Virginia Foxx called for bipartisan support for the bill and said that workforce training programs should be prioritized.
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“I look forward to further discussion and support of the PELL Act this Congress. For too long, Pell Grants have been restricted to degree programs that often fail to prepare students for the workforce. We introduced the PELL Act to help low and middle-income students take charge of their career and access skills-based programs that will equip them with the proper tools to succeed. I know my colleagues across the aisle want to see Americans thrive, and they should join me in connecting workers with future success,” Foxx said in a prepared statement shared with Campus Reform.
“With more than 11 million unfilled jobs in the United States, and more than six million Americans unemployed, Republican lawmakers pointed out the importance of addressing the skills gap,” a Committee blog reads.
If passed, the Pell Grant will cover the costs of training programs in areas such as “[m]anufacturing, construction, transportation… welding, medical assistant, technician, or computer coding and data analytics,” a Committee spokesperson told Campus Reform.
Additional provisions of the bill require workforce training programs to provide skills that would help fill in-demand jobs
“Eligible programs must be at least 8 weeks long and the program’s tuition and fees must not exceed the value-added earnings boost the credential provides. Workforce Pell programs must also meet a number of requirements, as determined by an accreditor… meet the hiring requirements of potential employers in those sectors or occupations; have been offering instruction for not less than one year before an accreditor determines eligibility,” the spokesperson said.
The Pell Grant is the federal government's largest grant program, with a current maximum payout of “$7,395 for the 2023–24 award year.” But it currently only covers the cost for students attending four-year degree programs, which have placed less emphasis on workforce training in recent years
A recent poll found that “72% of young adults who have university degrees say that college did not fully prepare them to start a career.”
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Professor at Suffolk Community College and Higher Education Fellow Nicholas Giordano argued that students are unprepared because four-year colleges are failing to teach them.
“It’s because [colleges have] lowered standards for the last 30 years. Students have simply been cycled through the system where they haven’t learned how to write effectively, they don’t learn how to communicate with other people,” Giordano said in a December interview.
Recent changes in application requirements suggest that employers agree.
State governments and companies, for example, have dropped four-year degree requirements after realizing that colleges are not graduating students who are qualified for the workforce.
This is why extending the Pell Grant to place students in workforce programs is important, President of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System Monty Sullivan emphasized in a statement for the Workforce Committee.
“[W]e need to ensure our nation’s system of education and workforce development can provide the skills that individuals will need to succeed in our ever-changing economy,” Sullivan told the Committee.
The Department of Education was contacted for comment, but they did not respond. This article will be updated accordingly.
Campus Reform continues to track developments in education policy.
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