House Puts Pell Grant Expansion in America COMPETES Act

An amendment by Democratic Rep. Andy Levin would expand Pell Grant eligibility to students in qualifying career-training programs.
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  • The Jumpstart Our Businesses By Supporting Students (JOBS) Act was included as an amendment to the COMPETES Act passed by the U.S. House.
  • The Senate's version of the bill did not include the JOBS Act amendment, so it's unclear whether the addition will make it into the final legislation.
  • Qualifying job-training programs must align with the requirements of "high-skill, high-wage, or in-demand industry sectors or occupations."

A sprawling omnibus bill intended to boost U.S. competitiveness with China may expand Pell Grant eligibility to students in career-training programs.

Rep. Andy Levin, a Democrat representing Michigan, introduced the Jumpstart Our Businesses By Supporting Students (JOBS) Act as an amendment to the COMPETES Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month.

The amendment would establish a Job Training Federal Pell Grant Program in qualifying colleges and universities across the United States. Students in job-training programs that produce industry-specific credentials would qualify for these Pell Grants.

“Our economy is only as strong as the next generation of American workers, particularly those facing the consequences of our country’s massive income and wealth inequality,” Levin said when he first introduced the JOBS Act in March 2021. “The key to ensuring young Americans transition seamlessly into good-paying careers is to make sure that high quality education and job training is affordable and accessible.”

Levin also tacked on the bipartisan College Transparency Act to the America COMPETES Act through the same amendment. This would create a national student data system to track post-graduation success by program.

The amended bill will now make its way through the Senate. Neither the JOBS Act nor the College Transparency Act were included in the Senate's version of the America COMPETES Act, so it's unclear whether one or both will remain in the omnibus bill after the reconciliation process.

A staffer for the House Committee on Education and Labor told Inside Higher Ed that the language for the JOBS Act was originally negotiated in the Senate.

Strict Standards for Job-Training Programs

Each year, Pell Grants help nearly 7 million low- and middle-income students afford college. The grants are calculated based on expected family contribution and tuition cost.

For a student to get a Pell Grant for a job-training program, the program must meet strict standards laid out in the JOB Act amendment's text:

  • The program must provide 150-500 hours of instructional time over 8-15 weeks.
  • Training must align with the requirements of "high-skill, high-wage, or in-demand industry sectors or occupations."
  • Students who complete the program must within one year report a 20% increase in median earnings compared to their earnings before enrolling.
  • The program must disclose graduates' employment rates and total earnings to prospective students.
  • The program must have been in operation for at least a year to qualify.
  • The program must not take place exclusively through remote learning, unless temporary online learning is required due to an emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eligibility requirements for job-training Pell Grants are similar to those for part-time undergraduate Pell Grants. The Job Training Federal Pell Grant Program will also use the same terms and conditions as the Pell Grant program for undergraduate students.

The award amount for job-training Pell grants may fall below the typical Pell Grant minimum in some instances. This is because job-training programs are usually shorter than traditional degree programs, according to the amendment.

Currently, the maximum Pell Grant for the 2021-22 award year is $6,495, according to the Department of Education. The minimum is $650.

A student cannot qualify for two Pell Grants at the same time. This means an undergraduate student already receiving a Pell Grant for their degree cannot get another one for a career training program at the same time.