Washington Watch: Senate amendment would approve short-term Pell eligibility

Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have introduced an amendment to pending legislation that would extend Pell Grant eligibility to students in qualifying short-term workforce education programs.

The amendment (see p. 30) to the United States Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260) is based on the senators’ Jumpstart our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act (S. 864), a top legislative priority for the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). If the legislation is ultimately enacted, it will be a major victory for community colleges and their students who need financial assistance to access shorter-term workforce development programs.

Senate leaders on Thursday night attempted to pass a large block of amendments that included the Kaine/Portman amendment before voting on the bill, but a group of Republicans objected to moving forward. The Senate has delayed further consideration until June 8. The sprawling legislation, which is primarily concerned with competition with China, would then go to the House.

A closer look

The amendment is similar in structure to the JOBS Act, but negotiations over its final form added new eligibility and reporting requirements that short-term programs must fulfill to become Pell eligible. Like the JOBS act, the amendment would authorize a job training federal Pell Grant program to extend Pell eligibility to credit and non-credit programs between 150 and 600 clock hours in length. Pell Grant eligibility is currently limited to programs 600 hours or longer. The U.S. Education Department (ED), would have one year from enactment to publish an eligibility application for short-term programs.

Key JOBS Act provisions maintained in the amendment include requirements that a program is listed on the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) eligible trainer provider list and that non-credit programs are articulated into a credit program at the institution.

AACC has prepared a full summary of the amendment focused on its differences with the JOBS Act. Some of the more important differences include:

  • For a program to be eligible, it must already have been in operation for more than one year and  program completers must have a median earnings increase of at least 20% of their total post-program earnings. The earnings increase is measured by comparing the earnings of program completers within six months of completing the program to the earnings of all program enrollees within six months prior to starting the program.
  • The amendment adds several required disclosures to prospective students, who must acknowledge in writing that they have received the information. These include basic information about the program, such as tuition and fees, completion and placement rates. Also required is a ratio of the student’s net tuition (published tuition minus any grant aid received) to program completers’ median earnings, presumably to give students an indication on their expected return on investment.
  • The Secretary of Education has 120 days to approve a program (compared to 60 in the JOBS Act). This approval is initially for two years, after which a program may apply for a three-year renewal. The secretary may deny renewal or revoke approval of programs that do not meet the eligibility requirements at any time. The secretary shall prohibit a revoked program from being offered again (or a program that is substantially similar) for five years. It is unclear whether this is limited to programs offered by the same institution that offered the terminated program.
  • Institutions are subject to new and extensive reporting requirements. They must report to ED:
    • The number and demographics of students who: enroll in, complete and do not complete the program. The demographics reported on must include:
      • sex
      • race and ethnicity
      • students with disabilities
      • income quintile
      • recipients of Department of Defense or veterans’ tuition assistance (e.g. GI Bill)
      • first-time or transfer student status
      • parent or guardian of 1 or more dependents
      • status as a confined or incarcerated individual
    • Required program tuition and fees
    • Earnings of completers and non-completers, disaggregated by the above categories
    • For program completers, disaggregated by the above categories:
      • completion, job-placement, and licensure and certification exam passage rates
      • the percentage who continue enrollment at the institution or transfer to another institution within one year after the program
      • the percentage that complete a subsequent degree or certificate within six years

About the Author

Jim Hermes
is associate vice president of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.