Washington Watch: An ideal time to advocate

The just-started congressional recess gives community college leaders a great opportunity to express to their national legislators community colleges’ national priorities. When members are at home, they generally have more time and can focus better on your concerns than when they are in Washington. 

When Congress does return to work after Labor Day, it will consider several critical community college issues. If legislators hear from you over the next month or so, we are hopeful of a positive resolution.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) is working aggressively on a variety of issues including Second Chance Pell (which would open Pell Grant eligibility to qualifying incarcerated individuals), simplifying the student aid application/verification process, and a series of funding requests. However, the following represent AACC’s top overall priorities, which we encourage you to bring forward to legislators:

Enact the JOBS Act (S. 839, H.R. 3497)

  • There is a growing need for student access to high-quality, short-term workforce programs keyed to labor market demands. These programs not only provide immediate employment opportunities, but often lead to further education and job advancement.
  • Community colleges strongly support extending Pell Grant eligibility to students enrolled in programs that are at least 150 hours in length but less than 600 hours. Programs should demonstrate workforce relevance and provide career pathways, but not encounter unnecessary roadblocks to gaining eligibility.
  • Community college training programs are thoroughly vetted before they are established and are constantly reviewed for workforce relevance. Different criteria (wages, industry certifications, job placement) are used in this process at different institutions, but review remains rigorous.
  • Community colleges strongly support the JOBS Act (S. 839, H.R. 3497) introduced by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) in the upper chamber, and in the House by Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-Louisiana) with five original co-sponsors. Community colleges do not support pilot programs or other limited approaches for students enrolled in these programs.

Enact Strengthening Community College Training Grants, as funded by the House

  • Over the last decade or so, the federal government has directly supported expanded community college training capacity through two successful programs: Community-Based Job Training Grants and the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grants. Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t created a similar program since TAACCCT, despite a continued pressing need to address the nation’s skills gap.
  • The Strengthening Community College Training Grants (SCCTG), based at the Department of Labor, would enable community colleges to expand and implement new job training programs to help employers fill the millions of current job openings. Community colleges, as lead grantees, would work with businesses and other important partners to ensure that programs meet employers’ needs.
  • As the Senate takes up and finalizes fiscal year 2020 Labor-HHS-ED appropriations, it should fund the SCCTG program.

Increase the Pell Grant maximum by at least $150

  • Pell grants help nearly 2.5 million community college students access and complete college each year, making it the highest priority federal program for our institutions. Congress should strengthen the Pell Grant program by increasing the maximum award by at least $150. We thank Congress for its ongoing support of this program.
  • Despite relatively low community college tuition and fees (an average of $3,660 for fall 2018), the Pell Grant maximum must consistently increase to cover these expenses, as well as books, transportation, food, housing and child care.
  • Community college students are the only students who are more dependent on Pell grants than federal loans to pay for college. A regularly enhanced Pell Grant allows community college students to avoid debt financing, which is particularly problematic for at-risk and many minority students.

You can email your representative, but it’s best to register these priorities in person, as members of Congress are always interested in helping their local community colleges.

For more information on these and other priorities, or if you have any questions, please contact David Baime, AACC’s senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis, or Jim Hermes, associate vice president for government relations.

About the Author

David Baime
is senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.