Short-Term Education and Training Programs as Part of a Career Pathway: The Case for Pell Eligibility

Many good jobs have “middle skill” requirements that can be met through post-high school, non-degree training. This often takes the form of short-term education and training programs that lead to an industry-recognized credential.

The best designed short-term programs are embedded in a longer-term career pathway program, enabling students to “stack” credentials. This helps students secure jobs more quickly, pursue additional credentials throughout their careers, and earn family-supporting wages. However, without federal financial aid, specifically Pell grants, from the Higher Education Act (HEA), students can only access these types of programs by paying out of pocket. Employer assistance and state, local, and institutional support are all too rare.

The disconnect between policy and reality has drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle and across sectors, but disagreements around quality, accountability, and aid eligibility persist. This is evident in discussions around reauthorizing the HEA. The Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act—House Republicans’ 2017 HEA reauthorization bill—would allow aid eligibility for short-term programs while eliminating safeguards. This is echoed in the 2019 Presidential Budget and Infrastructure Plan, where the proposal to extend Pell eligibility to “high-quality, short-term programs” does not reference any standards for quality. It’s essential for these programs to meet quality standards that prepare students for postsecondary and economic success, rather than exploiting their vulnerability.

Short-term programs fill an important economic need, offering opportunities to build skills and ascend toward greater earning potential. For nontraditional students, low-income students, first-generation students, and individuals with significant barriers to employment, these programs are an important equity lever. It’s critical that these programs are adequately supported and prioritized and even more essential that our postsecondary and workforce systems support students whose economic mobility depends on them.

This brief, written by Wayne Taliaferro, explains why high-quality, short-term education and training programs that are part of a career pathway should be eligible for Pell grants.