WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Lawmakers want to boost the economy and increase opportunities for workers by making trade school more affordable. A bipartisan bill would expand the use of the federal Pell Grants to include short-term job training programs.
Right now, technical workers like welders, truckers, and nursing assistants are in high demand, but not enough people are available to fill the open positions.
Dr. Sharon Morrissey, Interim Chancellor of the Virginia Community College System, says some students are driven away from job training programs because of the price tag.
“There are so many who don’t bother to even knock on our door because they look at the cost and say I can’t afford that,” Morrissey said.
Lawmakers want to make them more accessible. Republican Senator Mike Braun and Democrat Senator Tim Kaine introduced a bill to make certain trade programs eligible for Pell Grant dollars.
“If you’d use a little bit of the Pell money to go to where the high demand high wages are, everybody would be better off,” Braun said.                                      
“It’s hard to hire people. One of the ways we’re going to solve this problem is by equipping more and more people to fill these jobs,” Kaine said.
The senators insist students in trade programs deserve the same assistance that those getting college degrees receive.
“I view it as helping people pursue the career path they want, but it’s also kind of a fundamental matter of fairness,” Kaine said.
And Braun also says the bill acknowledges that college is not the right path for everyone. He says some people are actually more successful after going through trade programs.
“Look what they’ll end up with, none of the college debt and if they’re guided properly to these high-demand high-wage jobs, they’re going to be making as much as if not more than half of the four-year degrees would pay anyway,” Braun said.
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Advocates say it’s a win-win for students and the economy.
“What we’re talking about it a very big change in how we administer federal financial aid, but it’s time,” Morrissey said.
This legislation has been introduced in Congress before, but hasn’t passed. Senator Tim Kaine believes it has a chance to get across the finish line this time.
“A similar bill that’s bipartisan has been introduced on the house side and I think this is one whose time has come,” Kaine said.
If lawmakers do pass the bill, advocates insist it will make an impact.
“I think it will transform lives,” Morrissey said.