NSC Keynote: Pell needs 21st century reboot.

July 22, 2013

On July 19, NSC Executive Director Andy Van Kleunen gave the keynote speech at a meeting of the Rethinking Pell Grants Study Group in DC. The group—made up of 14 experts in higher education finance, student aid, workforce development, college administration and policy analysis—was convened by the College Board to explore ways to strengthen the Pell Grant program and better serve an increasingly diversified student body. They recently released Rethinking Pell Grants, a report featuring recommendations for improving the Pell Grant program for young people growing up in low- and moderate-income families, while also better serving older adults returning to school to improve their labor market opportunities.

Andy applauded the group for “having the guts” to put out a report about the controversial topic of restructuring Pell, given that many believe there should be no changes to the program, while others think the report’s recommendations don’t go far enough.

He honed in on six key points to kick off the strategy meeting:

  • We all agree with the premise: Pell Grants need a 21st century reboot. Although there are differences of opinion on some of the specific proposals, the mix of traditional and non-traditional students on very different career paths with different goals cannot all be equally served by the current one-size-fits-all approach.
  • Workforce Development needs to see itself as part of the higher education community. Workforce programs are increasingly becoming the entry points to postsecondary education for many working and hope-to-be working Americans in a way that they were not 10 years ago.
  • Higher education needs the workforce development community, because it’s going to be all about jobs. Students, workers and parents have already figured this out. As they look at rising college costs and uncertain returns in incomes and careers, they want to know if the job they find after college will be worth what they put into it. It’s where policymakers are heading as well, both here in DC and in state capitals all over the country.
  • Career guidance must be available to help students map out pathways to reach achievable milestones. We have the knowledge and the technology available to tell students and workers in our colleges and training programs what is happening in the labor market. But we do a poor job of making that information accessible and understandable.
  • We need quality data that can demonstrate the success or failure of all postsecondary programs. In most cases, we still don’t have cross-agency, cross-program data and accountability systems to assess how well we’re moving people along pathways over time into careers.
  • We don’t invest enough in people. We need to fight to increase the Pell pie, and to protect what resources have already been won. But we cannot allow it to be done at the expense of non-traditional, job-seeking, family-supporting students.

This meeting was a first step in the process of uniting the workforce development and financial aid communities to address the critical issue of postsecondary success of adult students. National Skills Coalition looks forward to continuing our involvement in these conversations and working with all interested stakeholders to improve the financial aid system serving younger and older students alike.

Check out Andy’s full speech here.