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Southwestern Michigan College has reported a 14 percent increase in students over age 25 in the past three years. Many unemployed and underemployed people in the area are heading back to the classroom to brush up resumes in a very competitive job market.
Southwestern Michigan College has reported a 14 percent increase in students over age 25 in the past three years. Many unemployed and underemployed people in the area are heading back to the classroom to brush up resumes in a very competitive job market.

Archived Story

Back to the classroom: SMC, LMC report increase in adult learners

Published 10:56am Thursday, February 4, 2010

By AARON MUELLER
Niles Daily Star

With unemployment shooting above 10 percent in Michigan and many more struggling with underemployment, people are looking for ways to be more marketable in an increasingly competitive job market.

Pursuing further education is one way Michiganders are trying to beef up their resumes.
Southwestern Michigan College has reported a 14 percent increase in students over age 25 in the past three years.

Currently SMC has 1,231 adult learners, accounting for over 40 percent of the school’s total enrollment.

Diane Chaddock, the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Southwestern Michigan College, said SMC really started to see an increase in adult enrollment when Gov. Jennifer Granholm introduced No Learner Left Behind in 2007. The program provides up to two years worth of free tuition at any community college or university for the unemployed or underemployed.

“That fall we had an open house where we had between 100 and 200 dislocated workers who came back to school,” she said.

Lake Michigan College has also reported an increase in adults enrolled at the school since No Learner Left Behind. Exact figures were not available before press time.

“In our area in particular, it’s loss of jobs for sure that has caused the increase,” Jacquie Johnson, an admissions specialist at LMC said. “It’s not uncommon for people to say I’ve been working for XYZ company and have been laid off and need to be retrained.”

Another trend at SMC is the number of full-time adult learners.

“Prior to the downturn of the economy, we would see a lot of night time working adults at the Niles campus,” Chaddock said. “Since then, many of them have lost their jobs and we are seeing them full-time during the day.”

Chaddock says the reasoning behind pursuing further education is changing too.

“Students are very job-focused right now. There is much more of a sense of going to college to get a job rather than a degree,” she said. “We are always careful about what programs we offer and we’re responding right now with programs with the potential of getting people employed.

Our numbers for occupational programs are stronger now than in any of my years at SMC.”
This fall SMC is adding seven new programs geared toward jobs on the rise. The school will offer associates degrees in theater technology, engineering technology and professional and technical writing. SMC also has added certificate programs for pharmacy technicians, special events planning and digital home technology integration.

Johnson says popular fields of study at LMC are the ones with the most potential for gaining employment, including health, hospitality management and energy production technology.
Both Johnson and Chaddock said it can be intimidating for adults to come back to the classroom after years away.

To make the application process easier, LMC offers a free seven-week course for adults that walks them through the enrollment process, and students receive a voucher for one free credit upon completion of the course. The one-night-a-week course begins in late February. SMC has an open admissions process where an adviser will help the student through each step of the application process.

What is No Worker Left Behind?
The No Work Left Behind (NWLB) program was introduced by Gov. Granholm in her 2007 State of the State address. It offers up to two years of free tuition to unemployed people.

According to the NWLB fact sheet released last month, more than 108,000 are enrolled in training as of November 2009.

Who qualifies?
- Any person who is currently unemployed, or
- Any person who has received a notice of termination or layoff from employment
- Any employed person whose family income is $40,000 or less per year.
- Participants must be at least 18 years old, must not have graduated from high school within the last two years (or be between the ages of 18 and 23 and have received their GED within the last two years) and must not be full-time college students (this applies to 18-23 years old only).

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