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Make Pell Work: Modernizing higher education to meet the needs of business

On April 3-4, Business Leaders United (BLU), in collaboration with the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) and the National Council for Workforce Education (NCWE), hosted over 30 business and community college leaders from a dozen states around the country to meet with their members of Congress about improvements to federal higher education policy. Each community college representative was accompanied by a local business partner, pairing the voices of employers who are struggling to find skilled workers with educators who are actively working to train community residents for high demand jobs. The event included a half-day of hill prep with BLU staff followed by a day of visits on the hill with their legislators.

Attendees met with over 30 legislative offices during the fly-in, primarily targeting members of the House Education and Labor Committee and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP)—policymakers with specific purview over higher education and workforce policy.

As Congress looks to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), the primary federal funding bill for postsecondary education, these fly-in attendees advocated for a number of critical updates to the bill that would help businesses effectively hire, train, and retain skilled workers through partnerships with their local community colleges. Their ask was that policymakers consider including the following legislative proposals in a comprehensive HEA reauthorization bill:

  • JOBS Act (S.839): Would allow students pursuing high-quality, short-term education and training programs eligible for Pell grants. This would improve access to in-demand credentials that meaningfully align with the changing needs of industry.
  • College Transparency Act (S.800, H.R. 1766): Would make postsecondary outcomes data—such as employment and wage data for program graduates—transparent and easily accessible so that students and businesses can make informed investments in skills.
  • Targeted Federal Investments in Industry Partnerships: Would provide federal support for the creation and expansion of sector partnerships between community colleges and regional industry leaders
  • Gateway to Careers Act (S. 1117): Would give working students the guidance, support, and streamlined education necessary to earn the credentials that industry demands.

These proposals not only help community colleges to be more responsive to the hiring needs of local employers, but they are extremely popular among small and midsize business leaders nationwide. As businesses grapple with a tight labor market and a persistent skills gap, it is critical that higher education is aligned with industry need, and that students have access to training for the high demand jobs in their communities.