NAICU Washington Update

Congressional Committees Look at Pell Grants and Workforce Training

April 23, 2021

Two Congressional hearings held this week underscored the growing interest on Capitol Hill in both community colleges and their relationship to workforce training. 

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held the hearing: “COVID-19 Recovery: Supporting Workers and Modernizing the Workforce Through Quality Education, Training, and Employment Opportunities.” This hearing focused on the importance of job skills training and how the workforce and higher education institutions can play a role. 

When asked what Congress could do to ensure that students had the resources they needed, every witness responded with the need to allow for short-term Pell Grant awards. There also was a plea to update the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). 

As for higher education institutions, the main focus was on community colleges and the role they play in preparing students for the workforce. The importance of career pathways and alternative career paths were discussed as well. Little attention was paid to the value of a baccalaureate degree. 

On the other side of the Capitol, the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies held the hearing “Building Capacity, Building Community: Increasing Investments in Community Colleges.” This subcommittee, which focuses on providing federal funds for education as well as job training programs, heard about the job training and basic needs community college students face. 

Witnesses emphasized that these needs have always existed, but have been exacerbated by the pandemic. They particularly highlighted the need for expanding the use of Pell Grants to short-term programs, but did not see that as an alternative to providing significant increases in the maximum grant, even to “doubling Pell.” 

Most of the conversation revolved around campus needs for technological and physical infrastructure improvements, as President Biden’s $12 billion infrastructure proposal reflects; funding for WIOA; and “new collar” jobs, especially in skilled technology. 

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