Many local members of the work force are still searching for jobs.
Officials with the Illinois Department of Employment Security say that the state’s unemployment rate remains above the national average at 9.9%, but things are looking up for a group of 40 local unemployed individuals. Benedictine University administrators are offering them free tuition and a chance to get back on their feet.
After 9/11, Benedictine University President William Carroll felt the need to give back and decided to offer first responders free tuition. With the success of the program Carroll recently decided to do the same for the unemployed.
“One of the things we did learn in this process is the unemployment rate for people without a college degree is over 9%,” said Carroll. “The unemployment rate for college graduates is, I believe, 4.1%. That’s a significant difference.”
This fall there’s 40 students participating in Benedictine University’s Illinois Back to Work Program, including Jon Raymond, a former bricklayer who’s been looking for solid employment for three years.
“I heard about this program and that was like a lifeline, so I filled out the application and got accepted on scholarship,” said Raymond, a finance major. “I appreciated that, something fell into place for once.”
Students participate in Benedictine’s Adult Undergraduate program, which is designed for adult learners. Mother of two Maribel Lupercio has been unemployed for nearly two years, and likes the adult classes more than traditional undergraduate courses.
“It’s very interactive with the teacher,” said Lupercio, a finance major. “It’s a lot of face-to-face. He keeps your attention and if you need help he’s willing to stop and explain it to you.”
Many of the students have been to college before, but to be in the program they cannot have already received their bachelor’s degree. They must also be Illinois residents, 25 or older, and unemployed for at least 18 months.
“In this group of 40 students that I had the privilege of addressing last week, you have a cross section of America’s unemployed,” said Carroll.
Staff at Benedictine are using funds students would already receive from the Pell Grant program and the state of Illinois to help pay for the students’ education.
“We will take advantage of those programs, not ask for any more financial resources from the government, and any monies that are left, the university will simply absorb those costs,” Carroll said.
While Benedictine has helped the students with tuition, they also offer their adult students lots of encouragement.
“If you’re afraid about becoming a college student, you’ll be in a class with adults,” said Carroll. “You’ll have a supportive environment, and we have thousands of adult graduates who were in the same shoes who didn’t think they could do it. You can do it.”
There’s currently only 40 students in the program, but officials say there’s no cap to the number they’ll allow. Benedictine is the first university in the country to help the unemployed pay tuition and President Carroll hopes other colleges and universities will follow their example.
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