A few years ago, hundreds of displaced factory workers in southern Iowa were looking for training to reintegrate into the workforce when the Exide Battery Corp., closed shop in the area and they were laid off.
Community leaders, administrators from Southeastern Community College in Burlington, Iowa, and displaced workers gathered to come up with a solution and developed “College 101: A Program For Displaced Workers.” The three-part, eight-hour crash course was designed to ease the apprehensions that many mid-career workers would have in enrolling in a college or university.
“People who are in the workforce are intimidated by the idea of returning to school to train for their next career. After a lay off, especially when the person was employed for many years with high earnings, it is critical to retrain for the new economy,” says Linda Gidley, regional director of the Workforce Investment Act.
In the first meeting, participants discussed career choices, the college catalog, class selections and the assessment tests they would be given during the second session. Participants then took the placement tests (ASSET and COMPASS) in the second meeting, and in their final session they went through step-by-step procedures for admissions, financial aid, book store operations and took a campus tour.
With the help of federal funds allocated for displaced workers through the Trade Adjustment Act, a Department of Labor worker training program, the first group of students to enroll received financial aid. Not all subsequent participants have been eligible to receive this aid; nonetheless, “College 101” has been successful in matriculating and retaining new students.
In the first 18 months, the program served 261 displaced workers, and of those workers 73 percent enrolled at SCC. “Of this cohort, the average GPA was 3.5 on a 4.0 scale,” says Dana Chrisman, the program’s enrollment coordinator. Since its inception the program has continued to be successful in times of lay offs, and it was a 2003 Bellwether Award finalist, which recognizes innovative community college programs. Gidley notes that the program has been replicated at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City, Iowa, and at other institutions both regionally and nationally.
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