2020 saw a once in a generation global pandemic plunge us into the deepest, most abrupt economic recession on record. At year’s end, more than 10 million Americans were unemployed, 3.7 million of those suffering permanent job loss. Moreover, more than one-third are now considered long-term unemployed, or out of work for more than six months. Stimulus packages thus far have provided immediate, sporadic relief. However, we also need to make sure that workers sidelined are ready to start new and better jobs when the economy finally opens back up.
To support a more inclusive economic recovery, Congress should pass the JOBS Act. This bipartisan bill was previously introduced in the House and Senate during the 116th Congress. JOBS expands the Pell Grant program to support enrollment in high quality short-term programs that lead to employment. The bill also creates meaningful on-ramps for individuals who might otherwise never pursue postsecondary credentials.
This year has brought accelerated demand for higher education to adapt to economic disruptions. The Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted workers of color, women, and workers without a college degree. And job losses in high contact-intensive industries, like hospitality and retail, are more likely to be permanent. Many occupations that require short-term credentials remained in demand and critical to support the broader economy during the pandemic. The JOBS Act makes it easier for unemployed workers who want a short-term or non-credit retraining pathway to employment to get the financial support needed to earn an industry-recognized credential.
A growing majority of today’s students are considered nontraditional. Nontraditional students are working adults who are pursuing higher education while balancing work and family obligations. Short-term certificate programs generally take one year or less to complete and focus on an occupation. They fit more seamlessly into the lives of nontraditional students and are becoming the preferred pathway for displaced adult workers pursuing additional training.
Recent surveys show students enrolling in additional education or training will likely do so to obtain a certificate or license. Furthermore, two-thirds of these students will be seeking additional skills for their current or a new career field. This public sentiment reinforces the need for states to define what makes a quality credential, so adult learners have a clear and successful pathway to the training programs needed to get better jobs.
Investing in skills training by expanding federal student aid to high quality, short-term training programs sets workers, businesses, and our economy up for success. The JOBS Act removes the bias against working people and expands Pell Grants to short-term certificates, not just degrees.
JOBS requires that short-term programs only be eligible for Pell if they:
The JOBS Act addresses the common criticisms of expanding Pell Grant access to short-term training program. Most notably, it would safeguard students by excluding for-profit or proprietary providers.
Overwhelmingly, America’s voters support making federal financial aid available for skills training. And the JOBS Act already has strong bipartisan support in Congress. By passing the JOBS Act, the 117th Congress could signal to the millions of American workers still sidelined from this recession – as well as workers who were previously held back by structural barriers of racism or lack of opportunity – that there is a pathway to education and training that will lead to better jobs.
We need to make sure that no student gets left behind. Tell Congress that passing the JOBS Act and investing in skills training is essential for an inclusive recovery.