- A lack of data on the number, nature and outcomes of short-term credential programs should be cause for caution among those seeking to make more of them eligible for short-term Pell Grants.
- That's according to a new report from The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) that examines data on short-term credentials of at least eight weeks in length in Texas, Missouri and Iowa.
- It found the programs "vary tremendously" in focus, duration, enrollment and outcomes. That reflects the challenge of vetting short-term programs even as interest grows in quicker ways to earn credentials that capture new skills and can be used in the job market.
"There's a tremendous amount that we just don't know about these programs," TICAS President James Kvaal told Education Dive. The three states were chosen because the enrollment and outcomes data gathered there is viewed to be among the best nationally.
The researchers struggled to determine an exact number of short-term programs that are not Pell-eligible but could be under the proposed change. Cost and length were similarly uncertain. They did find the focus of programs varied widely but suggested they might be state-specific. For example, health-related programs were the most common in Missouri while Texas' trended toward education fields.
Pell Grants are only available to programs that offer 600 clock hours of instruction over 15 weeks. But support is building in Congress to expand eligibility to programs as short as eight weeks.
Advocates say short-term Pell can help workers quickly obtain the skills and knowledge necessary to change careers or move up in their jobs. It also could be particularly useful in industries experiencing a shortage of qualified labor. Current funding for workforce training may be limited, the researchers note, and expanding Pell eligibility could help more workers access training.
Recent research from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce supports that idea. Around one-quarter of good jobs — which pay at least $35,000 for younger workers and $45,000 for older workers — go to those with more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor's degree.
The idea also has the backing of the Trump administration, which called for expanding the federal aid program in its 2020 budget proposal.
In their review, TICAS researchers indicated more data is needed to determine the viability of short-term programs. Kvaal recommended Congress "move slowly" in this area.
Kvaal said consistent reporting at the state level could help answer several lingering questions: "What exactly are we hoping to fund? What students are served by those programs? What do we know about whether those students are graduating and finding jobs?"
Third Way, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C., notes on its website that data on short-term programs is "limited," particularly for those around eight weeks in length. They are "unaware of any meaningful data" on those types of programs, though there is outcomes data for some Pell-eligible certificates.
In the meantime, colleges are integrating short-term programming into degree pathways to help students show they are qualified for certain work before obtaining a full degree. That includes embedding industry credentials, allowing students to "stack" classes and certificates into full degrees, incorporating boot camps and offering skills-based badges.