Jobless Overwhelm Retraining Programs

Communities now have waiting lists of 6 months or more.

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There are also about 1,000 workers on waiting lists for retraining in Flint, Mich., says Michael Kelly, a spokesman for Mott Community College. "We'd have more than 2,500 people if word wasn't out on the street" about the already long waiting list, he adds.

Even those who manage to qualify for funding can have trouble getting into classes. Community colleges across the country are having to cut their budgets while working to accommodate thousands of laid-off adults trying to strengthen their résumés. The Miami-area community college system, for example, estimates that about 5,000 students couldn't enroll in any of the classes they wanted in the fall of 2009. About 30,000 were shut out of at least one of the classes they tried for, says Dulce Beltran, registrar. And in North Dakota, there are waiting lists for popular training programs such as welding.

Waiting lists aren't universal, however. Clackamas Community College in eastern Oregon decided to divide the training money equally. A year ago, new training applicants were receiving more than $1,000 apiece—enough to pay for at least a semester's tuition. There have been so many new applicants in the past year, however, that in January of 2010, each retraining candidate is receiving only about $250 apiece—enough to pay for one three-credit course. The school has augmented aid and training funds by waiving tuition for some unemployed workers, and it is scheduling midnight welding classes to meet the rising demand, says President Joanne Truesdell. "So far, we have been able to meet people's needs," she says. But that won't continue if the job market remains anemic and the school doesn't get additional money soon. Those who are unemployed now typically need more than one or two courses to gain the skills they need for the few careers that are hiring, Truesdell says. "Our aid is being maxed out. We are on the edge of a precipice," she says.

Updated on 01/08/2010: The story has been updated to reflect the number of workers on the waiting list for the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas.