Expanding Pell Grant eligibility to qualifying short-term workforce education programs is a priority this Congress for the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
That statement by committee member Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pennsylvania) on Tuesday at the Community College National Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C., drew applause from the attendees at the early morning session. So-called short-term Pell (which is also called workforce Pell) is a top-list item for community colleges, including the member organizations hosting the annual summit — the Association of Community College Trustees and the American Association of Community Colleges.
With its goal of rapidly developing much-needed skilled workers for businesses and giving individuals the financial means to acquire skills for available jobs quickly, short-term Pell is “hard to argue against,” Smucker said.
House GOP leaders last month introduced legislation to extend Pell eligibility to high-quality, short-term workforce development programs. The measure may be stand-alone legislation or folded into the committee’s work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, Smucker said, adding that the panel will also work to reauthorize the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which is the nation’s main workforce development legislation.
North Carolina’s Rep. Virginia Foxx, chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, spoke on the House floor on Tuesday in support of the Promoting Employment and Lifelong Learning (PELL) Act, saying the bill would create an affordable education path to jobs and careers.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia), a staunch supporter of short-term Pell, also in January reintroduced his bipartisan JOBS Act. Kaine also on Tuesday spoke with community college leaders who visited lawmakers on Capitol Hill, asking them to support the bill. He told them: “When you meet with your members of Congress, please say ‘Pell grants for high-quality CTE.'”
Congress came its closest to passing short-term Pell last summer. The measure was added as a House amendment to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, but it wasn’t included in the final legislation.
Smucker, who also serves on the committee’s higher education and workforce development subcommittee, said the No. 1 challenge for U.S. business continues to be finding skilled employees. He said there needs to be better communication between businesses and community colleges on preparing individuals for available jobs.
“Every industry should be looking to community colleges” to ensure they offer programs that can develop the types of workers they need, he said, citing as an example the work of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, in teaming with healthcare providers in its service areas.
Smucker, who attended college at night as he ran his own construction business, noted that many Americans are now questioning the value of a four-year degree and whether one is necessary for available jobs or for the career that they choose. There’s a movement among employers to focus on the skills-based competency of job applicants rather than simply requiring a baccalaureate. That drew a response from some attendees, who told the congressman that lawmakers also will have to understand what that will encompass.
Smucker also noted his bill, the USA Workforce Tax Credit Act, which would create a new tax credit to encourage charitable donations for community-based apprenticeship initiatives, career and technical education, workforce development and K-12 educational preparedness. Community colleges would be among the eligible nonprofits.