House Unveils Bipartisan Short-Term Pell Grant Legislation

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Managing Editor

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include an additional provision of the bill, which would provide an offset for the complete cost of the legislation by prohibiting certain institutions from awarding federal student loans. 

Congressional leaders in the House on Tuesday unveiled a bipartisan bill that would enable the use of short-term Pell Grants.

The legislation for “Workforce Pell Grants,” as they’ve been dubbed, has garnered heightened interest this session. If enacted, it would allow Pell Grants to be used to support students enrolled in “high-quality” short-term education programs as soon as the 2025-26 award year.

The bill would prohibit certain private institutions that are subject to an excise tax on investment income, also known as the endowment tax, from awarding federal student loans to eligible students. These schools must also not award Federal Direct PLUS loans to a parent of a Pell Grant recipient, and as a condition of receiving funding under the FSEOG program, schools must guarantee emergency financial assistance to Pell Grant recipients and either maintain or increase Pell Grant enrollment each subsequent award year. 

Per the bill, these grants cannot be used for programs that would lead to a master’s, doctorate, or other post-graduate degree, or by students who have already attained a degree.

In order to qualify for a Workforce Pell Grant, a program must have at least 150 clock hours of instruction, but not exceed 600 clock hours, or an equivalent number of credit hours, and be offered at a minimum of eight weeks, but less than 15 weeks.

State boards would also need to make a determination that the program provides an education aligned with the requirements of high-skill, high wage, or in-demand industry sectors or occupations, meets hiring requirements, and satisfies professional licensure or certification in the state or states in which the program is offered.

Once a state board makes a determination that a program is qualified, an accreditation agency or association must determine that the program leads to a recognized postsecondary credential that is portable across more than a single employer, and is accepted toward meeting specific certificate or degree program requirements.

The agency or association would then need to publish on a prominent website of the institution the following information:

  • the recognized postsecondary credential that will be awarded to the student upon completion of the program, including the entity issuing the credential, any third-party endorsements of the credential;

  • the occupation or occupations for which the credential prepares individuals for employment; 

  • the competencies achieved to earn the credential; 

  • the level of mastery of such competencies and how mastery is assessed; and 

  • specific information with respect to where, whether, and under what circumstances the credential is stackable or portable.

The agency or association would also need to ensure that a plan is in place to ensure that students who complete their program have access to transcripts for their completed coursework without a fee, and that the program has been available for no less than 1 year prior to the determination made by the  agency or association.

Once these determinations have been made and approved, the secretary of education would then need to determine that the program: 

  • has a verified completion rate of at least 70%, within 150% of the normal time for completion;

  • has a verified job placement rate of at least 70%, within 180 days after completion;

  • does not charge a total amount of tuition and fees that exceeds the value-added earnings of students for the most recent year for which data is available; and

  • within three years of completion, shows a student’s earnings to have exceeded the annual median earnings of individuals in the state in which the program is located who are in the labor force, between the ages of 25-34, and have the highest degree attainment of a highschool diploma.

The legislation would also require the Department of Education (ED) to conduct data collection and dissemination related to Workforce Pell Grants by using data from the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) or administrative data maintained by the department, matched with Internal Revenue Service (IRS) income data.

The bill would also appropriate $40 million for fiscal year 2025, while the following four fiscal years would be appropriated $30 million.

The measure was introduced by the leaders of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, with the chair Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) and ranking member Bobby Scott (D-Va.) spearheading the effort. 

Foxx said the bill will elevate skills-based programs and meet workforce needs.

“America has always been a skills-based economy, so it’s critical that we retool the Pell Grant to match the education needs of both students and employers,” Foxx said. “This bill is a major win for students and workers, as well as employers who are desperately looking to fill in-demand jobs.”

Scott said the bill will help students, workers and employers compete in the modern economy and complete courses and certifications that will allow them to access “good-paying jobs,” in professions like IT and welding.

“The Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act will expand Pell Grant eligibility to high-quality, short-term training programs. By providing adults more opportunities to participate in quality training programs,” Scott said. “Congress will ensure that more Americans have a pathway to the middle class, and businesses can hire the well-trained workers they need.”

Foxx discussed the prospect of this legislation in an episode of “Off the Cuff.” Scott also discussed efforts to craft this bill in a separate episode of “Off the Cuff.”

The House Education and the Workforce Committee is slated to mark up this bill on Tuesday, December 12.


Publication Date: 12/6/2023

Michele K | 12/11/2023 12:17:16 PM

I support aid that helps adult learners prepare for a career. HOWEVER this additional language which moves the eligibility for Pell and loans from the student to the type of institution the student chooses to attend is a move that we have never seen since the inception of federal aid programs. It removes choice by the student for their educational institution.

David S | 12/11/2023 10:47:24 AM

Short-term Pell, great. Presumably all necessary checks and balances will be put into place to assure that the money is going to legit programs and helping the students who need it the most.

Now let's talk about the completely unrelated part of this bill that targets the neediest students at some of our most prestigious schools. Before anyone says "those schools are rich, this doesn't hurt anyone," these schools make some of higher ed's largest investments in helping the neediest students, and lots of those students need to borrow. Why should they not have the same loans with the same borrower protections and features all other students receive? Why should they not qualify for PSLF or other forms of forgiveness or cancelation? Why should they not be able to receive the types of loans that were paused during the heights of the pandemic? The neediest students might not meet the eligibility criteria for some or even most private loans, what are they supposed to do then?

It's no secret that it's open season on America's most prestigious colleges and universities, and this is manifested in many ways (up to and including the cold opening on this past weekend's Saturday Night Live). And on the surface, that doesn't impact most students or most schools. But don't allow that to make you feel safe and comfortable. If we allow something so arbitrary and capricious as this go through, it's not going to stop there. There are things happening on virtually every campus in America that some politicians oppose on purely populist political grounds and, armed with and relying on deliberate misinformation, they are chomping at the bit to "take on the ivory towers." The very concepts of access and affordability are under aggressive attack. Do not sit idly.

Peter G | 12/6/2023 1:17:31 PM

Thank you for this update. If I'm following this correctly, the Education committee has crafted compromise language.

On the whole, parts of this do sound like an improvement, esp. the addition of the 'or equivalent credit hours, bit, though I think for many of us the additional program & student requirements will prove thorny, esp. for programs that by their nature tend to generate less FTE/revenue unless they can run at massive scale.

Two questions:
1) What sense is there of whether this may pass the full House / both chambers to become law?
2) on the "no prior degree" bit, is that bachelor's/grad specific, or would even a prior Associate's be disqualifying, and if so, how would a school systematically know if the degree were from somewhere else?

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