U.S. Education, Labor Departments Renew Efforts to Help Unemployed Americans Pursue Postsecondary Education

Today, the U.S. Department of Education, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor, launched an initiative to help connect millions of unemployed Americans to postsecondary education, especially those displaced from their employment during the pandemic. To help all Americans seek educational opportunities or training that lead to good jobs, the Departments of Education and Labor will alert institutions of higher education and state workforce agencies about ways to help unemployment insurance (UI) beneficiaries access postsecondary education opportunities.

The Biden Administration began this outreach with a series of actions:

The Department of Education updated prior guidance to financial aid administrators at institutions of higher education about their authority to exercise “professional judgment” for individual financial aid applicants and adjust recently unemployed applicants’ income to zero. This action has helped ensure that students receive the maximum benefit to which they are entitled toward their postsecondary education.
The Department of Labor will alert state workforce agencies that UI recipients, in many cases, are eligible for postsecondary education funding like federal student aid at institutions of higher education.
“I am heartened that through these changes, the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor are helping unemployed Americans have the chance to go back to school, gain new knowledge and skills, and access opportunity through higher education,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “These efforts will go a long way toward expanding the middle class, growing the economy, and helping individuals lead thriving lives and support their families, as our nation continues to recover from the effects of the pandemic. I’m looking forward to furthering this invaluable cross-agency partnership and to seeing the ways that more Americans can benefit from it.”

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education created a new landing page that states can share with UI beneficiaries to help them identify offerings at colleges that are also eligible training providers under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Through WIOA, the federal government invests in the public workforce system. In some states, UI recipients can continue to receive benefits while attending school or training. The website is available at collegescorecard.ed.gov/training.

This action renews a similar effort undertaken in 2009 by the Obama Administration, when more than 20 million individuals received information about their potential federal student aid eligibility. Subsequent research into the effectiveness of that initiative indicated that eligible individuals who received information about their potential Federal Pell Grant eligibility were 40 % more likely to enroll in a postsecondary program.

Today’s announcement builds on the Biden Administration’s commitment to address the current economic crisis resulting from the pandemic and provide support to the colleges and communities that need it most. Last month, the Department announced temporary changes to the federal student aid verification process to remove obstacles from borrowers and focus on fraud. The Department has also provided access to billions in emergency aid to students and relief to institutions through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund and has released guidance urging institutions to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and support their students.