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New Opportunity from the Dept. of Education Could Support Pell Grants for Career Pathways

Nov 15, 2011

By Vickie Choitz and Marcie Foster

An exciting new opportunity announced by the U.S. Department of Education to "test" the use of Pell Grants for short-term vocational training programs may make it easier for career pathways and similar initiatives to leverage Pell Grant funding. The experiment aims to determine if Pell Grant funding for short-term vocational training programs increases employment rates and/or wages of unemployed or underemployed individuals.

Pell Grants are a promising source of sustained funding for many students in career pathway programs, commonly defined as "linked education and training services that enable students, often while they are working, to advance over time to successively higher levels of education and employment in a given industry or occupational sector." A career pathway is a framework that weaves together existing education and training college programs and streamlines the path to postsecondary education and credentials. A career pathway can include shorter-term education or training programs that "add" up to a longer-term degree. However, often times these short-term programs are too short to be eligible for Pell Grants.

This experiment is one of eight announced by the U.S. Department of Education in late October. Part of the Experimental Sites Initiative, it will allow some postsecondary institutions to "test" the value of providing Pell Grants for certain shorter-term, high-demand training opportunities. This experiment would allow waivers for existing Pell eligibility and expand eligibility to students enrolled in short-term training programs at least eight weeks long and that provide at least 150 clock hours of instructional time (current minimum requirements are 15 weeks in length and 16 semester hours or 600 clock hours).

This new opportunity is ideal for states and institutions expanding use of career pathways and seeking sustainable funding for students. Additionally, such occupationally focused career pathway programs would meet the experiment's further requirements that the program provide training needed to meet local or regional workforce needs.

The Department will evaluate this experiment using a rigorous evaluation design. Colleges will be required to report on a "treatment" group (students in an 8 week/150 hour program) and a "control" group (students in a 15 week+/600 clock hour or 16 semester hour program). Selected institutions must also comply with other data collection requirements, including the collection of a number of pre- and post-program student characteristics.

For more information on how to apply, see the solicitation in the Federal Register posted Oct. 27, 2011. Letters of application to participate are due by Dec. 12, 2011, to receive priority consideration; however letters received from applicants later may be considered for participation at a later time.

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