New Scholarships for Laid-Off Workers

The unemployed can go to college free at a growing number of schools.

Job seekers look through job listings at a career center in Oakland, Calif.

Job seekers look through job listings at a career center in Oakland, Calif.

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A small but growing number of government agencies, charities, and colleges are helping laid-off workers pay for retraining and college courses. And more help may soon be on the way, since President Obama has proposed reforms that would provide more educational funding for the unemployed.

But laid-off workers shouldn't expect a free ride. Most of the aid programs cover just tuition, or maybe part of it. The students often have to scrape together the cash for ancillary costs of college, such as textbooks and transportation. And each scholarship has its own qualifying rules and deadlines, so students should call the colleges in which they are interested as soon as possible. All is not lost for those who don't get any aid, however. Community colleges typically offer very low cost courses and training. In California, for example, community colleges charge only about $60 per course.

The grants for the jobless have been godsends for people like Frank DeCristina, 52, of Bloomington, Minn., who lost a job supervising computer assembly late in 2008. Without two free business courses at nearby Normandale Community College, "I'd be pretty depressed," he says. His classes—especially the one on salesmanship—gave him new hope and ideas about landing his next job. He redesigned his résumé to focus on the industries he's targeting.

Margaret Lee, president of Oakton Community College in Illinois, says she decided to offer free career certification courses to the local jobless because "we wanted to have some good news to tell people." The good news could spread. Lee has already gotten calls from colleagues at other community colleges asking for advice on how to set up similar free programs in their communities.

Free Tuition


Oakton Community College will waive tuition for up to 12 credit hours of courses in five in-demand careers.


The state's "No Worker Left Behind" program provides up to two years' worth of free tuition for unemployed and underemployed workers.


Lorain County Community College's Make Your Lay Off Pay Off program waives tuition for some classes.

New Jersey:

New Jersey community colleges, including New Jersey City University, Passaic County Community College, and Middlesex County Community College, will let unemployed workers register free of charge in courses with empty seats.


Bucks County Community College is offering up to 30 free credits.

The Community College of Allegheny County is offering free tuition for five career certification programs.

Lehigh Carbon Community College offers a free semester's worth of tuition to laid-off workers.

The Reading Area Community College is offering one semester's worth of free tuition.

Partial Scholarships and Grants

Nationwide: 74 universities across the country offer at least 10 Bernard Osher Reentry scholarships to people between the ages of 25 and 50 who want to finish their undergraduate degrees.

Workers laid off because of imports may qualify for education and retraining funding.

Western Governors University, an online school, is touting 100 new Economic Turnaround Scholarships, which knock $1,000 off its tuition of about $3,000 per semester. But the scholarship is limited to recently unemployed students who already have at least an associate's degree and aren't already enrolled at WGU.


Anoka-Ramsey Community College will waive half its tuition for the recently unemployed.


Missouri State University will waive $1,350 of its typical $3,138 semester fees for full-time students who have been recently laid off.

Do you know of other scholarships for job retraining opportunities? Please E-mail us at

Updated on May 14, 2009