Pell Grant reform could mean good paying jobs for middle America


President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan won’t just be looking to refurbish the nation’s bridges and roads but is also aiming at reforming our nation’s educational institutions. To combat some of the most significant problems within our labor force and education system, President Trump has included a provision in his infrastructure plan that could increase access to non-college job training programs without increasing spending.

As the legislative outline for Trump’s infrastructure proposal explains, the American workforce is integral to a properly running country and economy. But with nearly seven million individuals around the country looking for work and six million unfilled jobs, America’s skills gaps are leaving workers behind.

Despite jobs growth and decreasing unemployment, while a disproportionate share of Americans go to college, jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree, called middle-skilled jobs, are not being filled. In states like Iowa, more than half of all available jobs are middle-skilled jobs, which leaves both jobs unfilled and skilled workers unemployed.

In Palm Beach County, Florida jobs for welders and mechanics are going continually unfilled.  Jeff Ostrowski of the Palm Beach Post notes how strange this phenomenon is in their area, considering top welders can make $70,000 a year or more, and skilled mechanists can earn $65,000. 

However, following the insecurities generated from the Great Recession and the fueling misconception that a four-year degree is necessary, owing to lower unemployment rates for college-educated individuals, middle-skilled jobs go unfilled. Besides the higher education bubble, other factors to the skills gap include Baby Boomers retiring and regional mismatches.

To make up for this, the Trump administration has called for Pell Grants to be made available for students achieving certifications as part of apprenticeship programs and has expanded Pell Grant eligibility to pay for these more of these short-term programs.

President Trump also calls for changes our post-secondary education system and workforce development policies in order to encourage students to enter technical fields.

As the President’s plan explains, “The Federal Work Study program (FWS) currently is not well-suited or targeted to support students pursuing career and technical education, especially for low-income and low-skilled students seeking to enter or return to the workforce quickly. FWS funds are disproportionately distributed to four-year non-profit and flagship public institutions, leaving out quality two-year programs, many of which have a uniquely strong focus on workplace readiness.”

Agree or disagree with the Pell Grant program, the question the administration is addressing is how to best allocate the funds Congress is already providing. By reforming this program, Trump does not add money to the existing budget but instead reprioritizes funds to more proportionately represent the needs of our economy.

Before announcing this plan, the President met with 70 mayors to discuss needs of cities across the country. Mayor Karen Best of Branson, Missouri explains to the Branson News,My question was geared towards jobs and workers. Finding the workforce to fill those jobs… The infrastructure bill is going to have to do with workforce, workforce training, workforce management, also making Pell Grants available to trade schools, not just four-year universities and colleges…Being at the White House yesterday gave a name and a face to the community of Branson.”

These holes in the labor force already offer high paying opportunities; the federal government now must remove barriers that discourage students from pursuing two-year degrees. Trump’s plan allows for this to occur, giving a chance to employers and students across the country.

Natalia Castro is a contributing editor at Americans for Limited Government.