September 9, 2022
Students can use Pell Grant funding for programs as short as 15 weeks, but some education advocates want to see more flexibility from the subsidy program. In the past year, efforts to extend federal Pell Grant eligibility to short-term programs reached further than they ever had before.
Though the effort in support of what’s called short-term Pell is largely bipartisan, there is disagreement about what sort of guardrails, if any, to place on the federal funds.
“Even where there’s broad agreement on what you want to do, figuring out how to do it right is really the key thing,” said Jonathan Fansmith, assistant vice president for government relations at the American Council on Education, the higher education sector’s top lobbying group. “That’s been the trouble with getting short-term Pell over the finish line.”
Legislative experts say that the odds are long but not insurmountable. Here’s what they have to say about how it could move forward in the coming months.
A ‘remnants’ bill
In March 2021, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives introduced the JOBS Act, which stands for Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students. The bill was the beginning of the latest legislative push for short-term Pell.
Bills like the JOBS Act typically become law by being attached to larger legislative packages. In June 2021, an opportunity came in the form of a national innovation and science package that was moving through Congress.
Although there was broad support for the inclusion of the JOBS Act — and despite key senators reportedly agreeing to it — the policy got lost in the paring down of the package. Dissent over proposed quality assurance measures from House Committee on Education and Labor ranking member Virginia Foxx, a Republican, didn’t help the situation. Foxx said efforts to exclude for-profit institutions and online colleges from eligibility would unfairly discriminate and pick winners and losers in education.