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Legislation to expand Pell Grant eligibility

WASHINGTON (NEWSPLEX) -- New legislation in the U.S. Senate would help students access training and close a skills gap by expanding Pell Grant eligibility to short-term job training programs.

Senators Tim Kaine of Virginia and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced the Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students, or JOBS, bill.

According to a release, it would work to give students the training they would need to fill some 5.5 million vacant jobs caused by a shortage of qualified workers and allow workers to afford the training and credentials that are in demand in the current job market.

Under current law, Pell Grants can only be applied toward programs that are more than 600 clock hours or at least 15 weeks in length.

However, many job training programs run in shorter terms, including at least 50 programs offered by the Virginia Community College System, which would benefit from the expansion of the Pell Grant program.

“Fields like cybersecurity are critical to our economy and our national security, yet good, well-paying jobs in those areas are going unfilled,” said Kaine. “Community colleges across Virginia offer the short-term job training programs that workers need to gain the skills to get hired but they can't apply for Pell Grant funding for these programs like they can for traditional classes.”“We must do a better job of ensuring that more Americans have the skills that match the jobs that are available today, and part of that is making sure our students are job-ready after graduation,” said Portman. “By expanding Pell Grant eligibility, the JOBS Act will help kids from low-income families get the job training they need for careers that will give them economic security and help them join the middle class.”

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics says there are millions of currently vacant jobs due to a lack of qualified workers.

According to the release, the JOBS Act would amend the Higher Education Act to expand the Pell Grant eligibility to students who are enrolled in job training programs that are a least eight weeks long and that lead to industry-recognized credentials and certificates.

The National Skills Coalition estimated that nearly half of all job openings between now and 2022 will be jobs requiring education beyond high school but not a four-year degree.

The number of students getting postsecondary certifications is growing, but the supply of skilled workers is still falling short of demand.