Sen. 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.
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.
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.
“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.”