Pell, Short Term Pell, Workforce Pell - Finance

Overview

Federal Pell Grants are awarded to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need and have not earned a bachelor's, graduate, or professional degree. There are some exceptions. For example, a student enrolled in a post-baccalaureate teacher certification program can be eligible for a Pell Grant. The amount awarded depends on the student’s financial need, cost to attend school, status as a full-time or part-time student, and plans to attend school for a full academic year or less. (A student can receive a Pell Grant for no more than 12 semesters (Benefits.gov, n.d.). Unlike student loans, Pell awards are grants. Recipients do not repay.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education explored expanding Pell Grants to short-term occupational (also known as vocational) programs in an effort to improve individuals’ success in the labor market. The Department launched two pilot programs to examine whether these eligibility expansions increased enrollment in and completion of occupational training programs.

  • The first pilot allowed income-eligible students with a bachelor’s degree to obtain Pell Grants for short-term occupational training programs that lasted up to one year for full-time students and two years for part-time students.
  • The second experiment allowed income-eligible students to obtain Pell Grants for short-term programs lasting eight to 15 weeks.

Since the release of the report in 2021 detailing the findings of these pilot programs, Congress has considered expanding Pell Grants to include short-term occupational programs, notably in the JOBS Act and the Bipartisan Innovation Act. As of yet, no legislation has led to large-scale expansion of Pell Grants to such occupational programs.

August 2023 Update

The Congressional Research Service issued “Pell Grants for Short-Term Programs: Background and Legislation in the 118th Congress August 3, 2023” The report informed Congress as it considers legislation authorizing short-term Pell Grants.

  • The first section discusses current and historical context for HEA Title IV federal student aid and short-term programs.
  • The second section describes three proposals from the 118th Congress that would establish a new type of Pell Grant that would support student enrollment in short-term programs.

All references to current law denote the HEA (Higher Education Act) as in effect on or before July 1, 2024, as a result of amendments by the FAFSA Simplification Act (FSA; Title VII, Division FF, P.L. 116-260 [Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021]) and the FAFSA Simplification Act Technical Corrections Act (FSATCA; Division R, P.L. 117-103 [Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022])

December 2023 Update

In December, a bipartisan coalition of representatives (Education and Workforce Committee chair Virginia Foxx and House conference chair Elise Stefanik, both Republicans, as well as Democratic representatives Bobby Scott and Mark DeSaulnier) introduced a new bill to create the Bipartisan Workforce Pell. The legislation would permit a set-aside of Pell Grant funding for short-term postsecondary degree programs in order to align education opportunities with workforce needs. These programs typically span 8-15 weeks or involve 150-600 clock hours of instruction.

The Bill would enable:

  • Assisting high-need students in obtaining quick, employment-focused credentials.
  • Creating a quality assurance system for participating degree programs.
  • Establishing a process for existing and new accreditors to oversee the programs.
  • Enforcing a guarantee on price alignment to ensure students and taxpayers receive a positive return on investment.

The Bill would authorize the U.S. Department of Education to award Workforce Pell Grants beginning July 1, 2025, for the 2025-2026 award year. An eligible student must be enrolled in an eligible workforce program, may not have attained a postgraduate degree, and must otherwise meet the eligibility criteria to receive a Pell Grant.  The grant would have the same terms and conditions and be awarded in the same manner as other Pell Grants. This would allow certain students to receive a Workforce Pell Grant less than the minimum Pell Grant since the grant would be prorated by the program’s length. No eligible student could receive both a Workforce Pell Grant and a regular Pell Grant in the same enrollment period. Workforce Pell Grants would count towards a student’s lifetime eligibility for the regular Pell Grant.

The proposed legislation would build\s on a $20 billion aid package for institutions’ workforce development programs passed by the House of Representatives in 2021.

March 2024 Update

When the House was poised to vote on the Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act which included the latest effort to extend Pell Grant eligibility to workforce programs, the vote was postponed due to significant opposition primarily related to a provision intended to “pay” for the program. Beyond the opposition to the “pay-for” provision, the attempt to advance workforce Pell faced both old and new arguments against it. Strong bipartisan agreement continues that students pursuing short-term workforce programs deserve the same opportunities and resources as those in longer programs.

Relation to the Ecosystem

Pell Grants, both the traditional and piloted short-term programs, help students from low-income backgrounds pursue postsecondary credentials at a lower cost, thus improving their prospects for better jobs and higher earnings. The short-term Pell Grant in particular, if adopted as official U.S. Department of Education policy, may help employers secure skilled workers, since many eligible programs are tied to specific occupations.

Resources

For a detailed analysis of the two short-term Pell Grant pilots and their effects and information on the types of programs that participated in the pilots, read the full report and associated appendices found on the Institute of Education Sciences’ website. 

References

Benefits.gov. (n.d.). Federal Pell Grants. https://www.benefits.gov/benefit/417

Credentials As You Go. (2022, March 22). Key terms in incremental credentialing. https://credentialasyougo.org/key-terms/

Diverse Issues in Higher Education. https://www.diverseeducation.com/leadership-policy/article/15294233/should-shortterm-online-programs-get-pell-grants

House Committee on Education and the Workforce (December 2023). Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act, https://democrats-edworkforce.house.gov/imo/media/doc/bipartisan_workforce_pell_act_section_by_section.pdf

Kelliher, R. (2022, July 15). Should short-term, online programs get Pell Grants?

Pell Grants for Short-Term Programs: Background and Legislation in the 118th Congress August 3, 2023” Congressional Research Service.

Policy Center. https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/short-term-pell-accountability/

Ruddy, S. (2021, October 12). Short-term Pell accountability measures. Bipartisan

Thomas, J., Gonzalez, N., Wiegand, A., Paxton, N., & Hebbar, L. (2021). The effects of expanding Pell Grant eligibility for short occupational training programs: Results from the experimental sites initiative (NCEE 2021–001). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/2021001/.   

U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.). Federal Pell Grant Program. https://www2.ed.gov/programs/fpg/index.html

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