Kaine introduces JOBS Act to expand Pell grants for workforce training programs

July 31, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, co-chair of the Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus, introduced the Jumpstart Our Businesses By Supporting Students (JOBS) Act, legislation that would amend the Higher Education Act by expanding Pell Grant eligibility to students enrolled in short-term job training programs. Under current law, Pell Grants – needs-based grants for low-income and working students— can only be applied toward programs that are over 600 clock hours or at least 15 weeks in length, even though many job training programs are shorter term. The JOBS Act would expand Pell Grant eligibility to students enrolled in high-quality job training programs that are at least 8 weeks in length and lead to industry-recognized credentials and certificates. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 3.7 million U.S. jobs are currently vacant because of a shortage of qualified workers. The JOBS Act would address this shortage by helping workers afford the skills training and credentials that are in high-demand in today’s job market. 

"We need to ensure that federal higher education policies support a wide-range of career pathways that meet the demands of a 21st century economy," Kaine said. "As Congress works to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, it is imperative that Pell Grants become more accessible to students seeking the technical skills-training and credentials that meet the needs of the regional workforce."

“Often, the people who can gain the most by obtaining an industry-certified postsecondary credential cannot afford the training necessary to earn it,” said Glenn DuBois, Chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges. “These programs neither take as long nor cost as much as traditional college degree programs, but are still beyond the reach of people without financial aid. Changing that will help not only individual job-seekers but also the employers who are need qualified candidates to fill good-paying silver collar jobs they are trying to fill right now."

“More than ever before, U.S workers need access to high quality postsecondary training that gives them the skills and credentials to succeed in the today’s labor market. Unfortunately, our federal financial aid programs – especially Pell Grants – have not kept up with rapidly-changing demands of the 21st century economy. The bipartisan Jumpstarting our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act is a critical step towards eliminating outdated barriers to Pell, while also making sure that short-term postsecondary programs are aligned with needs of local and regional industries. We applaud Senator Kaine for his leadership on this issue, and we look forward to working with Congress to advance this proposal," said Kermit Kaleba, Federal Policy Director at the National Skills Coalition.

The National Skills Coalition estimates that nearly half of all job openings between now and 2022 will be “middle-skill” jobs that require education beyond high school but not a four-year degree.  While the number of students pursuing postsecondary certification is growing, the supply of skilled workers still falls short of industry demand.  

The JOBS Act would amend the Higher Education Act by:

  • Expanding Pell Grant eligibility to students enrolled in short-term skills and job training programs that lead to industry-based credentials and ultimately employment in in-demand industry sectors or careers 
  • Defining eligible job training programs as those providing career and technical education instruction at an institution of higher education such as a community or technical college that provides:
    • At least 150 clock hours of instruction time over a period of at least 8 weeks
    • Training that meets the needs of the local or regional workforce
    • Students with licenses, certifications or credentials that meet the hiring requirements  of multiple employers in the field for which the job training is offered
  • Ensuring that students who receive Pell Grants are earning high-quality postsecondary credentials by requiring that the credentials:
    • Meet the standards under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act
    • Are recognized by employers, industry or sector partnerships
    • Align with the skill needs of industries in the State or local economy 
  • Awarding half of the current discretionary Pell amount or $2,887 to students who attend skills and job training programs since programs are shorter and less costly

The JOBS Act is endorsed by the Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE), the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), the National Skills Coalition (NSC), the National Council for Workforce Education (NWCE), and the Virginia Community College System (VCCS).