Far too many adult workers, especially low-income Americans and people of color, have had their careers upended or lost jobs due to the pandemic. As we work to recover from the economic disruptions caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, investing in rebuilding the middle class, efficiently rebuilding the workforce talent pipeline, and helping more Americans access valuable postsecondary learning opportunities must be a top priority for policymakers.

Community colleges are working diligently to create innovative programs that will help students gain the knowledge and skills necessary to compete for in-demand jobs in the local workforce. These programs are designed to help students quickly and efficiently learn new skills and earn credentials that open the door to new, higher-paying career opportunities.

For many low-income students, Pell Grants are essential to afford higher education. In fact, roughly 3.2 million community college students rely on Pell Grants to pursue a postsecondary degree or credential. However, the current Pell Grant structure does not allow funds to be used for academic programs that are shorter than 600 clock hours or 15 weeks in length, limiting students’ ability to get the cutting-edge training they need to immediately pursue career-advancing jobs.

The Smart Solution: Workforce Pell Grants

Workforce Pell Grants, also known as short-term Pell Grants, would allow Pell Grant funds to be used to pay for short-term training or credential programs.

Support for Workforce Pell Grants has been endorsed by lawmakers and advocates on both sides of the aisle. Federal lawmakers have introduced bipartisan legislation, the JOBS Act, and approved measures through committee (as part of the College Affordability Act) on this topic. Organizations such as JFF, the National Skills Coalition, and the Business Roundtable have all supported the adoption of Workforce Pell.

Proven Benefits of Short-Term Credential Programs

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences examined two federal experiments to offer Workforce Pell and confirmed that allowing students to access Pell grants for short-term programs can lead to increased postsecondary enrollment and completion rates and help students to access pathways to increased credential and learning opportunities. According to Inside Higher Ed:

  • Students who had already earned a Bachelors’ degree were 26 percentage points more likely to enroll in additional education if they could access a Pell Grant to pay for a short-term training program.
  • These students were also 17 percentage points more likely to complete the short-term training program and 11 percentage points more likely to complete a short-term program in a high-demand field.
  • Allowing students to use Pell Grant funds for very short-term programs (less than 8 weeks) “resulted in higher enrollment (15 percentage points) and completion rates (nine percentage points), and an eight-percentage-point bump in completion of programs in high-demand fields”.

Real Results: The Impact of Short-Term Credential Programs in Key States

Similar experiments in states like Virginia, Colorado and Louisiana have also demonstrated the value of short-term credentialing programs to help workers develop the skills necessary to attain new employment opportunities and higher-paying jobs. Here’s the proof:

  • Virginia: Virginia’s Fast Forward Program helps connect workers with affordable, short-term credential programs that provide skills and training for 40 of the state’s most high-demand careers. Thousands of Virginians have enrolled in Fast Forward training programs with a 90% completion rate, and the state reports that the majority of Fast Forward graduates see a 25-50% or higher wage gain after earning their credential.
  • Colorado: According to research from Old Dominion University, individuals who completed short-term certificate programs at community colleges in Colorado saw sustained annual wage gains post-certificate attainment, increasing their earnings immediately after program completion and continuing to see wage growth 5 years post-completion (29% higher earnings) and 10 years post-completion (44% higher earnings).
  • Louisiana: Research also confirms that workers who earned short-term credentials in Louisiana experienced immediate annual wage gains of 19-24%, with post-credential wages that “far exceed” those with only a high school diploma in nearly every industry.

Time to Act: Making Workforce Pell a Reality

All Americans, especially low-income and unemployed workers, deserve access to affordable postsecondary training and credentialing opportunities that can have a significant positive impact on their future career and earnings potential.

As community college leaders and representatives of RAMC: A Coalition to Rebuild America’s Middle Class, we urge the Biden Administration to work with Congress to expand Pell Grants to ensure more Americans can utilize these valuable funds to access short-term training and credentialing programs that can make a huge difference in their future success.