Proposed Bill Will Provide Federal Tuition Assistance To Unemployed

By Staff
April 23, 2009

A proposed federal bill will pay community colleges $1,000 per student in order to retrain laid-off workers.

Time reports that Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania is pushing for a new law that would create the Unemployment Tuition Assistance Program as part of the Department of Labor. People filing for unemployment benefits would be notified of their eligibility for tuition assistance, and participating colleges would be reimbursed by the DOL from existing funds currently allocated to job retraining.

Casey's bill was inspired by the community colleges in his state, all of which offer or are finalizing plans for tuition assistance to those who have lost their jobs. According to the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, this semester 10 community colleges in the state enrolled 1,062 unemployed workers in free tuition programs, awarding 8,481 credits at a total cost to the schools of $741,788.

"Pennsylvania's community colleges have shown great leadership and sacrifice to help displaced workers," said Casey, who was quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "They have set a great example for the federal government to follow and they should not have to foot the bill alone. My bill will encourage other community colleges to do the same thing."

Other states have also made tuition assistance available to laid-off workers. Michigan's "No Worker Left Behind," launched in August 2007, has paid for over 60,000 unemployed workers to be retrained at companies such as Dow Chemical and Hemlock Semiconductor. Georgia's HOPE Scholarship, which has provided billions of dollars in tuition assistance, is funded entirely by the Georgia State Lottery. Both California and Texas are expected to significantly increase spending on workforce retraining as well.

Many other community colleges have been offering scholarships to the unemployed, such as Oakton Community College outside Chicago, where tuition is free for at least one semester for five in-demand subjects.

"It's an ingrained value of the community colleges, that they're there to serve the educational needs of their communities, and they have always responded as quickly as they can," explained George Boggs, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges in Washington, who was quoted in the Christian Science Monitor.

While Boggs applauded Casey's proposal, he noted that more must be done to help community colleges deal with budget cuts. "It isn't the total solution," he said of the bill proposal. "Unless basic funding support is restored the colleges may not be able to accommodate all of the students who need them."

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