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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, April 11, 2019 1:00 am

Bill aimed at skill-based grants

Banks, Braun see need for training to fill open jobs

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Two federal lawmakers from Indiana have joined to introduce legislation establishing a pilot program that would tailor federal Pell Grants to fit the job market.

Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., and Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, have introduced Senate and House versions of the Pell Grant Flexibility Act, which they say would cut student debt and meet the needs of employers.

Colleges, universities and trade schools participating in the pilot program would be required to demonstrate that they make use of U.S. Bureau of Labor employment projections, local and regional workforce needs assessments and information from Workforce Investment Boards and state agencies.

The pilot is for education and training lasting between 320 and 600 hours – also known as short-term training programs.

“As a business owner who has hired hundreds in my career, I know first-hand there is a workforce skills gap. This legislation will address that crisis, improve job placement and reduce student debt by prioritizing skills-based programs,” Braun said in a statement.

Banks said in a statement: “There are currently 100,000 jobs in Indiana that are unfilled due to a worker shortage in technical and skilled fields. We need to do more to equip students with the knowledge and training they need to find a job after graduation, and that begins with restructuring federal grant money to prioritize highly demanded skills.”

A variety of industries have reported skilled-labor shortages in recent years, including health care, finance, manufacturing, construction, engineering, trucking and hotels.

The Pell Grant Flexibility Act would have the U.S. Education Department monitor and evaluate the pilot program and report to Congress about how participating schools are meeting workforce needs.

Ivy Tech Community College Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, an economic development organization, said in a news release Wednesday that their representatives had traveled to Capitol Hill this week as part of a group of business and community college leaders from a dozen states who planned to advocate for, among other things, making Pell Grants available to “high-quality, short-term training programs that prepare workers for in-demand jobs.”

Ivy Tech Fort Wayne Chancellor Jerrilee Mosier said in a statement to The Journal Gazette that her school supports the Braun-Banks legislation and has been working with Braun's office on it.

“If passed, the language would allow students in short-term programs to receive federal aid for these courses,” Mosier said. “While Ivy Tech does not currently have a lot of these short-term programs, this change in federal statute would result in Ivy Tech adding more short-term programs to help address workforce needs.”

Megan Coval, vice president of public policy and advocacy for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said the association supports the legislation.

Coval said in a telephone interview that community colleges and their students would be the most likely beneficiaries of the Pell Grant Flexibility Act.

She said the pilot program would be for classes that are “aimed at more job-specific training. ... It sets up this demonstration program where schools can test this model to see how it works, if it's effective.”

bfrancisco@jg.net