Short-Term Limbo

Despite some progress in Washington, the future remains murky for short-term Pell.

The U.S. House finds bipartisan common ground on bills to open up Pell Grants to short-term programs. The Senate is a different story in an unpredictable time for Washington. Also, the University of South Florida goes all in to build a new major with deep industry involvement and a focus on work experience.

What’s Next for Short-Term Pell?

The abrupt cancellation of a July committee markup in the U.S. Senate appears to have shelved legislation to open up federal Pell Grants to short-term education and training programs. But Washington is weird these days, so both advocates and critics are continuing to track short-term Pell bills.

“Things move really slowly until they happen immediately,” says Amy Laitinen, New America’s director for higher education, who has opposed the proposals. “We’re not letting our guard down.”

Observers across the spectrum agree that committee leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives have reached agreement on some key sticking points, including on the always-contentious eligibility of for-profit providers. A bill from Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat and the ranking member on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, would allow for-profits to participate if they clear several quality-assurance guardrails, including an earnings threshold.

House Republicans also included a wage floor and other performance metrics in their version of short-term Pell, released in January. A subsequent analysis from the Urban Institute found that the Republican wage test would set a high bar for eligibility, with just 8% of vocational certificate programs at for-profits clearing the bar.

“These bills have more similarities than differences,” says Taylor Maag, director of workforce development policy at the Progressive Policy Institute, which has supported the proposals.

Laitinen says she was surprised and encouraged by the engagement of Republicans on quality controls. “It’s very clear that they are committed to meaningful baseline thresholds.”

That’s not to say that where to set the bar for quality controls is easy or fully resolved. “It’s such a balancing act,” Maag says.

In addition, getting solid data on short-term programs is far from a reality, despite the general bipartisan agreement in the House on measures to curb bad actors. This is particularly true for noncredit programs, where virtually nothing is known about performance and student outcomes.

“How would it work? It’s not implementable,” says Laitinen, who has long championed a proposal to require more reporting of postsecondary data, including on results for students. “You can only hold programs accountable to the extent that you have the data for them.”

Attempts to link the so-called College Transparency Act to short-term Pell have drawn support across party lines and from a wide range of groups. But neither bill has made it across the finish line.

Shifting Politics

Resistance to short-term Pell seems to have softened among some consumer groups and in certain progressive circles. And realpolitik could be driving some of the shift.

Young Invincibles is a nonprofit focused on the voices of young adults and economic opportunity. The group recently weighed in on the debate with a policy brief arguing that “there is no clear justification for the minimum length requirement for the Pell-eligible programs.”

Young adult workers with some college-level education could benefit significantly from short-term Pell, according to the brief, including communities from historically marginalized backgrounds as they seek to enter new workforce sectors with higher wages. The group also calls for quality controls, including requirements for instructional spending, credit transfer, and student supports. It does not back for-profits being eligible for short-term Pell.

Young Americans are interested in exploring more career options as well as alternative education paths, says Alexander Lundrigan, workforce development and finance policy coordinator for Young Invincibles and coauthor of the brief.

“Plenty of young adults could benefit from on-ramps into higher education,” he says. “I don’t think these career-readiness pathways are going to go away.”

The group calls for short-term Pell to be coupled with the College Transparency Act and doubling the maximum Pell Grant award, to $13K. Lundrigan says the market for short-term programs and bipartisan support for the bill are part of why Young Invincibles has joined the fray.

“This may happen, with or without us, so we might as well engage in the process,” he says.

While advocates remain hopeful that short-term Pell may be attached to a broader package of legislation sometime soonish, the biggest barrier may be what Laitinen calls “irreconcilable differences” between the House and Senate, including disagreement between Democratic committee leaders on whether for-profits should be eligible.

“I can’t imagine Bernie Sanders supporting Pell dollars for this new program,” Laitinen says.

Employer Demand and New College Programs

Nine in 10 colleges in a recent survey out of the Education & Employment Research Center at Rutgers University said they now use labor market data in some way when designing programs, though far fewer truly co-design programs with industry.

There’s also a growing recognition that students in majors both old and new benefit from having work-based experiences—projects, internships, co-ops, and the like—built into their curriculum.

The University of South Florida’s supply chain management program is an example of what it looks like when you package all that together: designing a program alongside industry, embedding work experience, and creating a continuous feedback loop around graduates’ skills and the needs of employers.

Click over to Work Shift to read about how USF worked hand in hand with industry and how the university got the word out about its revamped program.

Open Tabs

Income Inequality
Real median household income fell by 2.3% last year, while the real median earnings of workers decreased 2.2%, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. A key poverty indicator rose by 4.6 percentage points, hitting 12.4%, and child poverty more than doubled. The increase in poverty was due to the expiration of temporary expansions to the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit and the end of pandemic-era stimulus payments.

Guided Pathways
Many community colleges hit pause on guided pathways during the height of the pandemic but say they are ramping up that work again, according to new research from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College. The study focused on colleges in Ohio, Tennessee, and Washington, finding that only a minority of colleges had implemented the recommended practices, such as mapping paths to student end goals or tracking students’ progress, at a college-wide scale.

Two-Year Students
Career advancement was the top motivation recent community college students cited for enrolling, but just 49% reported that their education helped them achieve their desired career outcomes, according to a survey from Strada Education Foundation and NORC. Fewer than half of respondents reported developing skills that are most associated with subsequent outcomes, such as critical thinking, communication, or leadership.

AI Training
EY is the latest consulting firm to announce big spending on AI, with a $1.4B investment, the creation of its own large language model, and a plan to train its 400K employees on AI, reports Isabelle Bousquette for The Wall Street Journal. The announcement follows similar moves by KPMG, Accenture, PwC, and Deloitte. Bousquette reports that uncertainty about AI has led many companies to lean on consultants.

Employee Reskilling
More than two-thirds of workers are aware of coming disruptions in their fields and are willing to reskill, write a team of researchers with Harvard University’s Digital Reskilling Lab and the Boston Consulting Group’s Henderson Institute, who interviewed leaders at 40 organizations. The best approach, they found, is to do as much on-the-job training as possible, through shadowing assignments, internal apprenticeships, and trial periods.

Diversifying Tech
CodePath has received a $15M gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott to significantly expand its work providing computer science students with the industry-focused courses, internship experience, and career support that are needed to break into top tech jobs. The nonprofit, which has partnerships with tech behemoths like Amazon and Meta, is focused on driving economic mobility by diversifying the ranks of the nation’s top computer science jobs.

Green Jobs
A first-ever virtual Green Talent Forum expects to attract more than 10K attendees from around the world, who will hear about sustainable industries and careers. The event, hosted by Localized and the Posterity Institute and scheduled for Sept. 26, will feature companies that invest in the green economy and are seeking to create a talent pipeline.

Job Moves
Sean Gallagher has joined the Huron Consulting Group as a director in the company’s higher education practice. He has stepped down as executive director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education & Talent Strategy but will remain a part-time faculty member at the university and an adviser to the center.

Kirstin Hill is the new president and chief operating officer of Social Finance, a nonprofit group that designs outcomes-based funding projects. Hill previously worked for Bank of America, beginning as an intern at Merrill Lynch and later serving as chief operating officer of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.

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