House and Senate Democrats introduce legislation to expand access to Pell Grants

By Katie Spiker, May 16, 2017

On May 16, Senate and House Democrats introduced the Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act. The legislation would amend the Higher Education Act (HEA) by supporting the expansion of Pell grants to improve rates of access, affordability and completion in postsecondary education programs. Representatives Scott (D-VA) and Davis (D-CA) introduced the House corollary of the bill, and Senators Hirono (D-HI) and Murray (D-WA) introduced the Senate version.

The bill includes a proposal to expand Pell Grant eligibility to students enrolled in short-term job training programs that lead to industry-recognized credentials and ultimately employment with in-demand industries. This proposal builds on the Jumpstarting our Businesses to Support Students (JOBS) Act of 2017, introduced earlier this year by Senators Portman (R-OH) and Kaine (D-VA). In addition to supporting the JOBS Act, NSC has called for further investments in career pathways and for Congressional adoption of employment, earnings, and credential attainment metrics. 

The Democrats’ bills contain many NSC priorities for HEA reauthorization and would expand access to Pell grants in several ways, including:

  1. Transitioning funding for Pell grants fully to mandatory funding. The program is currently funded in part with discretionary funding subject to the annual appropriations process;
  2. Allowing DREAMers access to Pell grants in the same manner as other qualified applicants;
  3. Increasing the maximum Pell award by $500, tying this maximum award to the Consumer Price Index, and increasing the income a family can earn while still maintaining eligibility for the maximum Pell award;
  4. Expanding Pell eligibility to certain incarcerated and previously incarcerated individuals; and
  5. Extending eligibility to students who used a portion of their eligibility for programs which were subsequently found to have defrauded students. 

On May 15, Senators Hatch (R-UT), Warren (D-MA), Cassidy (R-LA), and Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the College Transparency Act, which would also amend HEA. The bill would create a postsecondary student data system at the U.S. Department of Education, in order to publicize aggregate information about completion rates, debt repayment, and employment outcomes for postsecondary programs. Read more about the College Transparency Act from the Workforce Data Quality Campaign.

National Skills Coalition looks forward to working with members of Congress to align the Higher Education Act with today’s working students.