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In recent years, the debates about proposals to expand the federal Pell Grant program to pay for short-term workforce programs offered at community colleges have been lively.
Several states have taken matters into their own hands, using federal stimulus dollars to provide aid to adult learners seeking short-term certificates and certifications. These state initiatives offer essential insights into how we can better connect low-income workers—particularly workers of color—to good jobs.
Short-term credentials aren’t new. At least 5 percent of U.S. adults have a quality certificate as their highest form of education. Short-term credentials can have real value: Workers with a certificate or certification have median earnings of $45,000, compared to just $30,000 for individuals with only a high school education.
And workers want these credentials, with recent polling showing that many adults would enroll in skills training over degree programs.
It’s not surprising, then, that many states see these programs as part of their economic recovery strategies. At least a dozen states have used some portion of their federal funding under the March 2020 CARES Act to expand access to training programs at community colleges. One example is Michigan’s Futures for Frontliners program, which funds training for individuals employed in essential jobs during the height of the recession.
While these programs are all temporary, Florida seeks to make its program permanent. A new bill in the state legislature would create a new “Open Door” grant program for workforce credentials. The bill establishes a state framework to identify credentials that lead to middle-class and higher-wage jobs. Only credentials that meet quality standards would receive funds under Open Door.
Although there are some differences among the various state models, these programs’ key feature is a focus on helping adults quickly earn a credential that has value in the labor market. As states consider expanding and sustaining these programs, they should require:
Kermit Kaleba and Amber Garrison Duncan are strategy directors at Lumina Foundation, an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. Lumina Foundation does not support or oppose specific legislative proposals at the state or federal level.Back to News