US House passes Pell expansion but excludes online education

New legislation to expand Pell grant eligibility for students enrolled in short-term skills and job training programs has broad support in Congress, even though it excludes students who take these programs online, a provision that some community college leaders and online education advocates say is a mistake.

The legislation, which the House of Representatives passed Feb. 4, now heads to the conference committee, where lawmakers will draft a final bill. The bill passed the Senate last year, but without amendment, including the House bill, which contains Pell Grant’s expansion language. The language calls for allowing Pell Grants to apply for any short-term program with ‘at least 150 clock hours of instruction time over a period of at least 8 weeks’ as long as it is not primarily taught in line.

Cinzia D’Iorio, dean of continuing education at Bergen Community College in New Jersey, said she was excited about the opportunity to expand Pell Fellowship eligibility for short-term programs, which she says benefited to many students at his institution. But D’Iorio wondered why online programs had been excluded, especially since many high-quality, short-term online programs have been created by community colleges amid the pandemic. D’Iorio said Bergen CC has seen a surge in interest in short-term online certification courses, which would be excluded from the Pell Grant expansion.

D’Iorio said that “especially for adult learners, people have realized that you can get a great education online…If you need financial assistance, you shouldn’t be limited in how you learn to achieve your goals”.

Russell Poulin, executive director of the WICHE cooperative for educational technologies, which focuses on improving the quality and reach of digital learning programs, said he was troubled by the provision excluding all online programs. He cited strong online short-term programs, such as cybersecurity boot camps and other certificate programs, with good student success results such as those offered by Western Governors University and many community colleges.

Poulin said the legislation should be based on program outcomes rather than modality.

“It’s very troubling that they make such a blanket exclusion of distance education,” Poulin said. “I’ve seen this many times where there’s this misconception that anything entirely online has to be offered by a for-profit institution.”

Many for-profit institutions have a history of poor student success metrics. But Poulin said the bulk of online programs offered today come from nonprofits like community colleges. He said “the purpose of the authors of the legislation is a bit broad and they are probably hitting institutions they don’t want to hit”.

A staffer on the House Education and Labor Committee said the language of the amendment was originally negotiated in the Senate and provided by Senate handlers of the legislation, suggesting that the expansion of Pell Grant will remain in the final bill.

“The key to ensuring young Americans have a seamless transition to well-paying careers is ensuring that high-quality education and job training are affordable and accessible,” said the amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Andy Levin, a Michigan Democrat, in a statement. “Pell Grants — not short-term education loan programs — have helped millions of Americans get a better education and find better jobs… This bill would close the ‘skills gap’ “expanding Pell Grant eligibility for high-quality, short-term skills and vocational training programs that lead to industry-based degrees and ultimately employment in industrial sectors or careers high-wage and highly skilled.

The House committee staffer said lawmakers agreed with Senate officials to limit Pell’s expansion to only physical or hybrid options because they are associated with better student outcomes. The legislation aims to help individuals pursue short-term programs that will lead to high-skilled, well-paying jobs, the staffer said, and is particularly designed to allow people to retrain and re-enter the workforce quickly. work to fill jobs that have gone vacant as a result of the pandemic.

Kevin Miller, associate director for higher education at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said many short-term programs perform poorly for students, which he says is why online programs may have been ruled out.

“Skeptics of these programs are basically concerned about spending federal money on shoddy programs,” Miller said. “There’s a lot of caution in trying to build this expansion in a way that doesn’t risk ending up with wasted money.”

Monique Ositelu, senior policy analyst at New America, a Washington-based think tank, said New America conducted a nationally representative survey of students who graduated without a degree in less than 15 weeks and had found that half of them had incomes below the national poverty line for a household of four. She said 41% of students whose highest level of education was not a degree were unemployed at the time of the survey.

Tom Brock, director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College at Columbia University, supports expanding Pell to cover short-term programs, which he says are a very common offering at community colleges. Brock said the U.S. Department of Education has evaluated short-term Pell Grants and found them to be beneficial for students in achieving certificate and degree goals, although he has acknowledged the validity of the Pell Grants. concerns that some programs are not leading to good jobs.

“It’s kind of a balancing act — you want to encourage students who take this step to further their education, who see it as a stepping stone to the job market,” Brock said. “At the same time, you don’t want to provide federal resources for programs that have no value if they go to providers who simply don’t provide training that will get students somewhere. You also want to make sure you’re protecting taxpayers, who end up footing the bill.

Brock said online programs were likely excluded from Pell’s expansion because they have historically underperformed. However, he said, online courses have become much more common since the pandemic, and community colleges have become more experienced in the modality.

He called the “general exclusion” of online programs problematic. Instead, he said, Congress should enact quality standards requiring institutions to “clearly demonstrate that students in these programs are getting jobs, earning wages, or hourly wages that justify the investment.” in this short-term program”.

Many community college leaders interviewed were pleased with the expansion of the Pell Grant Act to include short-term programs. Yet many worried about what they saw as arbitrary exclusion from online programs, especially since they are often the only option for adult learners.

“It’s unfortunate that online programs are excluded because it’s a currently overlooked equity issue,” said Marie Hulett, executive director of institutional advancement at Chemeketa Community College in Oregon, which offers 18 certificates. short term that a student can complete entirely online. . “For many students, online classes are truly the only option for higher education. Between work and family obligations, and even transportation challenges, taking classes on campus can be a huge barrier to completion. college studies and manpower training.

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