Unemployed workers heading back to school

*       Story Highlights 

*       Many community colleges have cut or frozen tuition for laid-off

*       Scholarships and other forms of financial assistance have been made

*       Applications spike has burdened some schools with already strained

*       Goal is to support lifelong learning, says Pennsylvania community
college president

By Rachel Streitfeld

BLUE BELL, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Janice McFadden's story hardly stands out.

The Pennsylvania woman was laid off in November after working at the same
company for nearly 20 years. Now, as she looks for a job, McFadden worries
about losing her home and uprooting her 8-year-old daughter.

But when McFadden talks about the future, she has found some cause for hope.

In January, the 43-year-old enrolled in the tuition assistance program at
Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.

The program offers county residents who have been laid off since September
2008 the opportunity to take 12 college credits -- usually four courses --
for free.

McFadden said the program will allow her to reassess her options while she
improves her marketability and salary potential.

"I have all of the capabilities, but I don't have that piece of paper, which
is a requirement for a lot of jobs," said McFadden, who is taking night
courses in economics and English composition. "I never thought that I would
go back to school, all this time, and I'm glad I did."

She is one of more than 1,100 Pennsylvanians taking tuition-free community
college courses as they search for a job. Many are concentrating on new job
skills, such as computer programming and accounting, to retrofit their
résumés so they can compete in a turbulent job market.

"The response was incredible," said MCCC President Karen Stout. "The day
after we announced the program, our call center lines were clogged up. We
had more than 300 calls in the first two or three days, and we had
information sessions that had standing-room-only attendance."

It's a trend echoed at community colleges across the country. George Boggs,
president of the American Association of Community Colleges, said he has
heard from 75 college presidents reporting double-digit
<> enrollment increases this

"Community colleges are a big part of the solution to this economic
downturn," Boggs said. "We are the institutions that are on the ground
bringing these individuals into our institutions and preparing them for a
new career."

Continued on back


Boggs pointed to programs in hard-hit industrial manufacturing states, such
as Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, as being particularly geared toward
mid-career students.

Many community colleges have cut or frozen tuition for laid-off workers,
established scholarship programs or offered financial assistance to pay for
textbooks and transportation costs.

However, the spike in applications has put a burden on some schools that
already are struggling to keep tuition low and upgrade their facilities.

"Many [community colleges] are reporting that it is the highest-ever
enrollment that they have had," Boggs said. "And several are reporting a
waiting list of students that they can not accommodate.

"It wouldn't surprise me to hear that about a half-million students are
being turned away from our community colleges today."

At MCCC, enrollment is up 10 percent since spring 2008. But the school has
been able to place the new students in courses that aren't at capacity.

"We are worried about our bottom line, especially in this economic
environment," MCCC President Stout said. "But we do have classes that are
scheduled to go that have open seats. So basically, these were empty seats
that we're filling with unemployed workers."

If  <> unemployment continues
to rise -- in Pennsylvania the jobless rate is 6.7 percent -- Stout wants to
continue offering tuition-free classes. And even once these mid-career
students get back on their feet, she's hoping to see them around campus

"Our goal is that these students want to come back and be
<> lifelong learners --
that they understand that in today's economy, you have to continue to keep
your job skills relevant and up to date," Stout said. "None of us can be
complacent about our own learning."

Her plan may be working. Much to Janice McFadden's surprise, she has
discovered she loves being a student.

"I'm looking at it as a wide-open possibility for me. I don't have to stay
in the same field that I was in, I can go back to school ... I can be
anybody that I want to be now," McFadden said. "I just have to pick what I
really like, what I'm good at, and concentrate on that."

All About <> Continuing
Education •  <> College
Admissions •  <> Higher
Education •  <> Unemployment






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