via Virginia’s Community Colleges [link]

VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois traveled to Capitol Hill in Washington to urge a Congressional panel to make Pell Grants available to students enrolled in workforce training programs, like those offered by the VCCS FastForward program.

Federal Pell Grants currently are available only to students in for-credit academic programs.

“The ability to use Pell Grants for short term workforce programs would be transformative,” said DuBois, speaking May 22 to the House Sub-committee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment. “We could serve so many more students, unleashing an incredible engine of economic mobility.”

“Our typical FastForward student has to come up with about one thousand dollars out of pocket on the first day of class. Survey after survey shows that amount is simply out of reach for too many American families,” DuBois added.

Virginia’s Workforce Credential Grants program already provides significant financial assistance for students in FastForward training programs at Virginia’s Community Colleges. Pell Grants would make those programs even more affordable, helping more Virginians earn a place in the middle class while meeting the verified workforce needs of Virginia businesses.

“There’s a growing consensus that we ought to allow Pell Grants to help finance these short term programs,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D) Virginia, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. “But there’s a lot of concern that we only want the Pell Grants to go to quality programs.”

“I would suggest there should be two elements in an accountability system,” DuBois responded. “One element is program completion. The second is employment in a high demand, family sustaining wage jobs.”

Virginia’s pay-for-performance funding for VCCS’ FastForward program already is based on completion of training and attainment of industry-recognized credentials. And, research shows FastForward graduates have a high rate of employment in their desired career fields.

The more than two-hour sub-committee session focused on community colleges and colleges devoted to serving African-Americans (HBCUs), Hispanic-Americans, and Native Americans as “Engines of Economic Mobility.”

The wide-ranging discussion also spotlighted the fact that growing numbers of college students – especially students in open-access institutions like the VCCS – come to campus facing serious challenges with food and housing insecurity.

“We are dealing with some of the nation’s students who have the most difficult life circumstances,” said DuBois. “And we are simply funded at the lowest levels in higher education. We’ve become like the higher education emergency room of America. And yet we have to serve our students with essentially a part time workforce called adjuncts. I don’t know of a hospital in the country that would operate with part time nurses. So, yes, we do need help.”

To view the committee testimony, click here.

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