Loans and Free Tuition for Community College Students

Loans and Free Tuition for Community College Students
Learn more about how community colleges and federal loans can help you affordably finance your community college education.
Courtesy Department of Education

When the economy slows down, individuals across the country struggle to cope with layoffs. Even after the economy begins to grow again, it takes some time for employment levels to rebound. As a result, many workers find that their once-desirable resume is no longer up to par in a fiercely competitive job market.

To help unemployed workers stay at the forefront of training, some states offer free community college tuition. Specifically, states such as Kentucky and New Jersey are seeking to stimulate their community’s knowledge and job application appeal by providing free classes and affordable tuition to workers in need. Depending on each school’s programs, laid-off employees can either benefit from completely free tuition or significant tuition discounts.

This video shows a student explaining how he went to community college tuition-free.

Kentucky Community Colleges

The Kentucky Community and Technical College System offers extra tuition support to Kentucky residents who have recently encountered job loss. Dubbed the “Career Transitions Initiative,” the program seeks to provide workforce training in high-demand, high-wage jobs. Set into motion with the support of Governor Steve Beshear, newly laid-off workers are provided with a 50 percent tuition reduction for up to 6 credit hours each semester. This discount is available at 16 colleges and 67 campuses throughout Kentucky and students can utilize it for a full year of education or training. Additionally, this program is designed to help provide newly laid-off individuals with personal support to navigate the process for financial aid or student loans.

The main goal of this program is to provide high quality, low cost and convenient education and training to individuals who are struggling to find new employment. With the free or reduced community college opportunities, employees can receive the knowledge and skills they need to become competitive in their field of interest. Kentucky residents who have filed for or received unemployment benefits are eligible to apply for the program.

New Jersey Community Colleges

The New Jersey Unemployed Workers Tuition Waiver Program is available at all the state’s public community colleges and universities. As part of the program, seats not filled by paying students can be made available to unemployed students free-of-charge. Students must enroll in courses that provide identifiable skills that will improve their ability to acquire gainful employment. While all public institutions in the state participate in the program, requirements and policies that govern the program’s administration vary widely from campus to campus.

Students can also get assistance through a variety of state programs that pay for job training. The New Jersey Workforce Development Partnership Act (WDP) and the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) each provide up to $4,000.00 in grants for job training to workers who have been displaced. Both programs also allow students to continue to collect unemployment insurance while attending school. Additionally, workers whose jobs have been moved overseas can receive funding for classroom and on-the-job training, as well as monetary assistance to relocate or conduct job searches as part of the Trade Assistance Act.

This video reports on a tuition-free community college experience.

School-Based Programs

Many community colleges have their own tuition assistance programs for unemployed students. For students who have lost a full-time, non-seasonal job, the Community College of Philadelphia offers the Opportunity Now program as a means to gain the knowledge and skills to start a new career. Participants in the program receive a tuition waiver for up to 12 credits for one semester. In order to be eligible, students must be a resident of Philadelphia County and a citizen of the United States and must present a letter from their former employer stating that their position has been terminated.

North Seattle Community College offers a similar program for laid-off workers called the Worker Retraining Program. The program is available for students who have lost their jobs and require further training in order to obtain new employment. Tuition assistance, and funding for textbooks and supplies may also be available. To be eligible, students must meet one of the following criteria:

  • All unemployment benefits have been exhausted within the last two years.
  • Unemployment assistance is currently being received.
  • If self-employed, your business has closed within the last two years.
  • You have been honorably discharged from the armed forces within the last two years.
  • You are a homemaker that has been displaced due to divorce, death, or unemployment of a spouse within the last two years.

Federal Assistance Programs

Federal programs are also available for students who are out of work. Unmarried, independent students with no income are likely eligible for the maximum award under the Pell Grant, which for the 2014-2015 school year stands at $5,730.00. The Pell Grant is generally awarded only to undergraduate students who have not yet obtained an undergraduate or professional degree. All students who qualify for the grant will get assistance, regardless of the school they attend or the number of people who have been awarded the grant in any given school year.

Additionally, unemployed students might qualify for up to $4,000.00 of assistance per year as part of the Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG). The FSEOG program is campus-based, meaning the financial aid office at each individual college determines the award amount. FSEOG funds are limited, and some schools do not participate in the program. As such, funds are dispersed to the highest need students first, and once the funds are gone, no more grants will be awarded.

This video explains theFederal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) program.

Whether assistance is gained from a campus-specific program, a state-funded scholarship, or a federal grant, many programs allow unemployed workers to return to school and get the education they need to start new employment. If you’re unemployed and want to return to school, inquire at your local community college’s financial aid office about programs available to you. You may well find that you can go back to school for a greatly reduced price, or even for free.

Questions? Contact us on Facebook @communitycollegereview.

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