Washington Watch: House floor vote on Workforce Pell expected next week

The House is scheduled to consider H.R. 6585, the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act (BWPA), next week, probably on Wednesday. 

The legislation is expected to be considered under a “suspension of the rules,” meaning that it needs a “yes” vote from two-thirds of those present and that it cannot be amended. The legislation would extend long-sought Pell Grant eligibility to programs between 150 and 599 clock hours in length, or its equivalent. 

H.R. 6585 was approved on a bipartisan basis by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on December 12. The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) has since urged the House leadership to take up the measure. AACC strongly supports the bill, and AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus is communicating its support to all members of the House. 

Strong arguments for the bill

AACC will also ask all its members to urge their members to support the measure. Some of the arguments that community colleges will use include:

  • Many students need financial help to access these programs – even with low community college tuitions that average just $3,990 annually.
  • The economy badly needs the additional skills acquisition that this legislation will provide. At the end of last year, there were 9 million job openings in the U.S. By 2031, 72% of jobs will require postsecondary education or training.
  • The rapidly shifting workforce will require some students who have already obtained a four-year college degree to return to community college to gain new skills offered by one of these programs. Others will enter college for the first time through a workforce program and subsequently continue their postsecondary education — an option that the bill requires.
  • The legislation contains an extremely strict set of quality standards. These standards are far more exacting than those applied to all other federal student aid programs. To qualify for support, programs would need to meet new quantitative outcomes standards in completion, placement and earnings; the legislation also applies existing public and private quality control mechanisms.

Some opposition

The bill has detractors. They include some members, primarily Democrats, who oppose the bill’s inclusion of for-profit institutions. Others in the higher education community, including the American Council on Education, oppose the bill because it pays for the cost of the bill by applying “risk-sharing” to a set of institutions with the largest per-student endowments. (Unlike an earlier version of the bill, the offset no longer denies any students access to Title IV aid). While the proposed policy does not impact community colleges, AACC continues to oppose all forms of risk-sharing and hopes that this offset will be altered.

House passage of BWPA will hopefully spur the Senate to advance legislation on this issue, leading toward final enactment. With the Bipartisan Workforce Act, Congress has a rare opportunity to advance a measure that will positively impact the economy and foster economic mobility.

AACC will keep its members posted on this critical legislation. 

About the Author

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