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No Worker Left Behind Program Helps Spur Community College Enrollment

JACKSON, Mich. ­- Victor Washington Jr., 39, decided to go back to school two years ago. Even though he’d proven he could get a job and succeed in various business ventures, it wasn’t enough.

Washington, who has two daughters, is originally from Detroit and has served in the military. He also has had his own business with Federal Express, has worked as a certified nurse assistant and a real estate agent.

But Washington says he was tired of people not giving enough weight to his experience all because he didn’t have a college degree.

So he decided to enroll at Jackson Community College, where he is pursuing three associate degrees in business administration, accounting and health occupations.

He eventually would like to get his bachelor’s degree in at least one of those disciplines.

He is one of many adults around the state and country who are hitting the books in an effort to change their career or save a job.

Julie Hand, assistant dean of enrollment management at the college, says adult enrollment at the college has risen 65 percent over the past five years, and federal and state programs such as No Worker Left Behind have helped boost enrollment.

Currently, there are 465 students in the program, and medical and business degrees are in the highest demand.

No Worker Left Behind, which ran from 2007 to 2010, helped around 140,000 Michigan residents head back to school in order to prepare for in-demand jobs.

Because of a drop in federal funds, this year the program is accepting a much more limited number of enrollees. But it will continue to help participants already working toward a degree.

Through the program, the state agreed to pay up to two years of tuition up to $10,000 toward a degree in approved fields. The program got results; 75 percent of participants who completed schooling have gotten new jobs or retained their current “at-risk job,” according to the program. The majority of those who had been unemployed reportedly secured jobs related to their new degree.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of young students enrolled at degree-granting institutions has been growing faster than the number of older students, but this should change during the next few years.

From 2006 to 2017, the center estimates a 10 percent rise in enrollments of people under 25, and a 19 percent increase in enrollments of people over 25.

Kevin Pnacek, vice president of admissions at Baker College in Jackson, says enrollment was up last year for both traditional and nontraditional students and that the trend has continued this year. Since the college doesn’t have dorms, however, it generally attracts a more significant number of nontraditional students.

“A lot of people are coming in wanting to get a degree,” he says.

Popular fields of study include health care, technology and business; and Baker boasts a healthy employment rate of 98 percent for its graduates.

And even without the same numbers of No Worker Left Behind students, Baker’s enrollment is on pace with the last few years.

“We’ve seen continued success and growth,” he says.

Tamara Dindoffer, associate dean for the school of graduate and professional studies at Spring Arbor University, says the 1,600 adult students in these programs come for various reasons, whether to finish a bachelor’s, get a master’s, gain a promotion or keep a current job. The university’s students have the option of attending the main campus or 14 other sites in Michigan and Ohio or taking classes online. The average age for adult students is 33, Dindoffer says.

She says Spring Arbor saw a “big boost” last year in enrollment in several programs, including nursing and social work, and that the No Worker Left Behind program contributed to the boost in enrollment.

When the economy turns sour, Dindoffer says people consider going back to school; but many don’t have the cash to pay up front and are afraid to take on more loans.

This is why the No Worker Left Behind program proved helpful to many individuals. But Spring Arbor is still attracting many adult students to its accelerated degree completion programs in a variety of majors.

“There are a lot of options,” she says. “People like that.”

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