In addition to increased eligibility for the Pell Grant -- the largest federally funded scholarship program available to students -- several individual institutions, including East Central Community College in Decatur, Miss., and the University of Arkansas at Monticello, offer private scholarship and grant programs for the recently laid off.
Pierce recommends that those seeking financial aid should start the scholarship hunt by identifying what type of vocational development program they'll need and then calling those institutions to ask about financial aid. Workers eyeing regionally accredited two- and four-year colleges can apply for federal financial aid including Pell Grants, student loans and work-study arrangements by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Workers may have to fill out additional paperwork or provide extra documentation to apply for private scholarships and grants available through colleges and training centers.
David Baime, vice president of government relations for the American Association of Community Colleges, also recommends that older students talk with the institution's financial aid counselors about their job situation.
"A lot of aid eligibility is determined by the student's income from the year before and obviously that's going to change if someone's been laid off," Baime says. "Students need to let their (aid officers) know that their situation is different than it was a year ago."
Pierce adds that there is one way that dislocated workers can reduce college costs and sidestep financial aid paperwork.
"Kentucky's community and technical college system offers tuition waivers of up to 50 percent for up to six credit hours per term for workers who have become unemployed since October of 2008," says Pierce. "A lot of schools across the nation are offering discounts like that."
While certain states like Kentucky and New Jersey offer statewide tuition waiver programs, Pierce says that a significant number of individual institutions offer waiver or tuition discount incentives for senior citizens, military vets, disabled students and workers who recently lost their jobs. Students interested in tuition discount deals should contact their school's financial aid office or their local One-Stop Career Center.
Seek private fundsIf the feds or the school won't pay for retraining, never fear. Private funding is out there.
"Labor unions, for example, often have tuition support funds for their members," says Papadakis. "They also have ongoing contact with the Department of Labor so they have a good sense of what's available for workers that are laid off."
Papadakis adds that workers who aren't union members might be eligible for free or low-cost education through professional associations, civic groups, public libraries, community centers or nonprofit organizations such as Goodwill. A quick call to local union reps and professional groups in your field could yield thousands of dollars' worth of free education.
Change careers (and get paid)Instead of separating work and education, why not blend the two and earn a paycheck? Such national service programs as AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps and Teach for America provide willing workers with free on-the-job training, a paid position and an education award that can be applied to future college classes or forgiveness of up to 70 percent of incurred student loan debt. True, the pay is generally nominal, but those who complete service sometimes get preferential treatment for federal jobs.
Workers can also get a job and an education through apprenticeship arrangements. The book "200 Best Jobs Through Apprenticeships" reports that there are currently more than 1,000 paid apprenticeship programs in fields ranging from elevator operation to information technology. In addition to commanding a full salary, apprentices graduate with experience and a guaranteed job. Learn more about apprenticeship programs nationwide at the Department of Labor's Web site.
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