Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Stefanik backs using Pell grant money for short term job skills training; union & college back it

By Maury Thompson, Special to The Chronicle

SUNY Adirondack President Kristine Duffy said the college is working with Local 773 of the Plumbers and Steamfitters and others to develop a proposal for the college’s first short-term program to teach students the skills necessary to enter union heating, ventilation and air conditioning apprentice programs.

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, is championing legislation to expand the federal Pell grant college program to include short-term workforce development training courses, which Dr. Duffy said would give the program a more realistic chance of success.

Pell is the grant program for lower and middle-income college students. At this point, Pell is only available for traditional credit-bearing academic courses.

The premise of the legislation is that the tortoise approach no longer necessarily beats the hare in the race to fill the workforce pipeline.

Rep. Stefanik said, in a news release. “Our skills education system is changing and a four-year degree is not a requirement for success. Many in-demand careers require skills that can be gained from a short-term program.

“Federal policy isn’t aligned with this reality and needs to recognize that there are more pathways to a good job after high school than just a degree.”

Bipartisan legislation which Stefanik introduced Dec. 5 is quickly gaining traction. It would appropriate $40 million for the 2025-26 academic year and $30 million in each of the succeeding three years to provide grants to income-qualifying students to enroll in specialized workforce training programs which provide between 150 and 600 clock hours of training.

SUNY Adk President Duffy said Workforce Pell would provide a steady, reliable stream of funding for job skills training programs, whereas now college officials must secure one-time grants each time a program is offered.

“It’s been on the docket for a while, so we’re glad to see it advancing,” she said.

The funding would be in addition to and separate from current funding for traditional Pell funding, and would not take away from those pursuing traditional college certificates and degrees.

Spending for the new program would be offset by eliminating eligibility for federal Stafford student loan participation in colleges with extremely large endowments.

Endowments at those colleges are levied a 1.4% endowment tax under a law passed during the Trump administration.

The Workforce Pell grant legislation would not increase overall federal spending or increase the federal deficit.

The legislation – HR 6585 – passed the House Education and the Workforce Committee on Dec. 12, forwarding it to the full House for consideration.

The 14 cosponsors – 11 Republicans and three Democrats – as of Dec. 15, included Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., who chairs the Education and the Workforce Committee, and Rep. Robert Scott, D-VA., the ranking Democrat on the committee.

SUNY Adk currently offers short-term vocational programs in computer technology, including a program in collaboration with GlobalFoundries micro-chip factory, and another that provides certification for computer helpdesk careers.

An experimental program from 2011 to 2017 offered Workforce Pell grants to students who did not have a college degree. It increased enrollment and completion in short-term vocational courses by 10 percentage points, according to a report by the Institute of Education Services.

It said that a second experimental program offering Workforce Pell grants to students with bachelor’s degrees who were seeking new careers increased enrollment and completion by 20 percent.

The need is clear, said Liza Ochsendorf, director of Warren County Department of Workforce Development.

“My workforce development colleagues and I are always happy to see leaders talking about investing more into education and workforce training programs,” she said. “With the rising cost of education and everything else, it’s always good when more grant funding is available for students and trainees.”

The proposed law would require colleges to document the success of their programs in order for the colleges to continue participating in Workforce Pell.

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