The JOBS Act: Expanding Pell Grants for Students in Workforce & Job Training Programs

By Katherine Saunders

In July 2015, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), co-chair of the Senate Career and Technical Education Caucus, introduced the Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act to make Pell Grants more accessible for students seeking job training. This proposed legislation would amend the Higher Education Act (HEA) by expanding Pell Grant eligibility to students in high-quality, short-term job training programs that are at least eight weeks long and lead to industry-recognized credentials.

In order to compete and succeed in today’s labor market more workers need access to high-quality workforce and skill-training programs. Between now and 2022, the National Skills Coalition reported that nearly half of all new jobs will be “middle-skill” jobs requiring some postsecondary education, but not necessarily a baccalaureate degree. Yet while the demand for qualified workers is increasing, our workforce development and jobs training programs have barriers that hinder progress for low-income individuals.

Under current rules, a certificate program of less than one year in length is eligible for federal financial aid if it includes at least 600 clock hours of instruction, 16 semester hours or 24 quarter hours, and is offered for at least 15 weeks. However, the initial steps in many career pathway programs, which target occupations in growing fields with family-supporting employment and work with employers to grow skilled workers, do not meet the duration specified in the statute. Students and institutions must, therefore, pay for this initial level of training without Title IV student financial aid funds, threatening student access to a career pathway and other job training programs with proven employment outcomes.

The JOBS Act would address this by awarding up to half of the maximum Pell award ($2,887) to students enrolled in job training programs that provide career and technical education instruction and lead to industry-based credentials and employment in in-demand industries. These programs must be at least 150 clock hours of instruction over at least 8 weeks; must offer training that meets local or regional workforce needs; and must fulfill the hiring requirements of multiple employers in the field for students with licenses, certifications, or credentials. The bill also ensures that participating students earn high-quality postsecondary credentials by requiring the credentials meet the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act standards; are recognized by employers, industry, or sector partnerships; and, align with the skill needs of the state or local economy.

The JOBS Act is a critical step in eliminating outdated barriers to Pell Grant accessibility and has CLASP’s full endorsement. CLASP commends this effort to make workforce and training programs more affordable for non-traditional and low-income students, and we look forward to working with Congress in support of this proposal.