- A bill that would make short-term programs eligible for Pell Grants was introduced in Congress by a bipartisan group of House lawmakers.
- The expansion would allow qualifying students to use Pell Grants for programs as short as eight weeks, potentially opening up the federal aid to six million more students.
- The proposed legislation, called the JOBS Act, comes after Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, introduced a similar bill in March.
Pell Grants currently are eligible only for programs that are at least 600 clock hours or 15 weeks in length, but backers of the bill say an expansion is needed to meet today's workforce needs.
"[W]e must work to meet the needs of middle-skill jobs,” bill co-sponsor Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., said in a statement. “The JOBS Act accomplishes that goal and makes a meaningful investment in the development of America’s talent.”
Under the JOBS Act, eligible programs would have to run for at least eight weeks, lead to high-wage or in-demand jobs, and provide students with industry-recognized credentials. Students could receive almost $3,000, half the amount of a normal Pell Grant, to pay for their programs.
Support for short-term Pell is gaining traction. The proposal has even garnered the backing of the Trump administration, which championed the federal aid program's expansion in its 2020 budget.
Community colleges offering short-term training programs, as well as nontraditional higher education providers like boot camps, stand to benefit. The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), which represents nearly 1,200 two-year institutions, has voiced support for short-term Pell, arguing that it is unfair to deny such aid to low-income students seeking this kind of training.
Likewise, the National Skills Coalition, which advocates for policies that support workforce development, has thrown its weight behind the JOBS Act.
Still, the idea has been met with resistance. Some lawmakers question how the U.S. Department of Education will ensure programs are providing high-quality education. And others have concerns about increasing the Pell Grant budget, potential exploitation from the for-profit sector, and a dearth of long-term career opportunities for graduates of short-term programs.
And even though proponents of the bill say it will support only "high-quality and rigorous" programs, there is substantial research suggesting many short-term programs don't improve pay — especially in fields with large shares of women, contends Kevin Carey, New America's vice president for education policy and knowledge management.
"[S]hort training programs of wildly uneven quality are already contributing to a growing wealth gap along race and gender lines," he writes for The New York Times. "Making them even shorter could make that disparity even worse."