Support Grows for Major Shift in Pell

Bipartisan support is building for federal legislation that would make Pell Grants available to students who are pursuing short-term certificates.

Under current law, the major federal grants for low-income students cannot be used to pay for academic programs that are shorter than 600 clock hours or 15 weeks in length. But a bill introduced in January by Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, and Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, would expand Pell eligibility to shorter job-training programs, with a minimum cutoff of 150 clock hours of instruction time over a period of at least eight weeks.

Anthony Carnevale, a research professor and director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, said the bill is part of a long-term shift toward using public funds for job-related training.

"This is inevitable," he said. "We’re not clear how they’re going to do it, but it’s going to happen."

The proposed legislation includes quality-control standards aimed at ensuring the resulting credentials are recognized by employers and have value in the job market. A broad array of business and higher education groups back the bill, including the Business Roundtable, the National Skills Coalition, Jobs for the Future, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Young Invincibles, and the Association of Career and Technical Education.

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