CBS19: Spanberger pushes for expansion of Pell Grant program


A bill before the U.S. House could expand a financial aid program to help students who are pursuing short-term, career-focused credentialing programs.

Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger says she heard from instructors at community colleges in the area about the need to strengthen aid options for such students during a two-day education tour last month.

This bill, which Spanberger is working to advance, would expand Pell Grant eligibility for qualifying short-term programs.

She says this could also give more Central Virginia students access to workforce training courses instead of pursuing a more traditional education at the four-year university.

According to a release, there are significant resources that are already available to help students who go the traditional route, but the need for expanded aid for shorter-term training programs has been largely unfulfilled.

It adds that many industries across the country are facing widening skills gaps because people who take a post-secondary education route other than college are often overlooked when it comes to the availability of financial aid.

The National Federation of Independent Business issued a report in June that found 54 percent of small businesses reported few or no qualified applications for open positions. This is especially true in construction.

The legislation that Spanberger has co-sponsored, called the Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Student Act, would extend Pell Grant eligibility to qualified career education programs that take between 150 and 600 hours and at least eight weeks.

The release says this provision would create more paths for qualified candidates to afford an education to fill job openings in areas where employers have been having difficulty finding the people they need.

“In Central Virginia, we have strong workforce training programs for occupations ranging from commercial truck drivers to database specialists. But many students in our region’s short-term training programs are ineligible to apply for Pell Grants, which could help them afford the training they need to advance toward their long-term career goals,” said Spanberger. “Last month during my education tour, I head directly from instructors and administrators at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College about the need to expand this grant eligibility.”

One program that could be impacted at that community college is its commercial truck driver training courses.

The JOBS bill would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to extend Federal Pell Grants to students in short-term job training programs.

The bill was introduced by Representatives Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) and Cedric Richmond (D-Louisiana).

A companion bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators Tim Kaine and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

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