Federal Funding Available for College Course


Pell Grants Give Up to $5,500 for Training

Recognizing that those who have more training and a greater level of education beyond high school are more employable, the federal government has several education-funding programs for unemployed individuals that pay for college coursework and training while still drawing unemployment benefits. The federal Workforce Investment Act of 1998 established several federally funded programs that help people who are unemployed to obtain additional specialized training and college education. With the additional training, many can enhance their existing skills and experience and become much more employable.

Apply for Career Training Benefits.

The idea is that a little investment of federal tax dollars can reap much larger rewards by putting people back to work performing work that is rewarding, pays well and will last the rest of their careers. Instead of bouncing around from one job to another, drawing more unemployment and increasing needs for additional social services, the individuals can work in fields they enjoy doing and earn good pay. That means lessened demand on social services and greater economic participation.

Those who already have a four-year degree or graduate degree can pursue additional coursework and degrees, and shift their careers into more lucrative and longer sustaining ones. Those who have gained an appreciation for the need of quality bookkeeping, for example, might pursue careers of accountants by getting an additional bachelor's degree in accounting. Once an initial bachelor's degree has been obtained, it is very easy to get a second one in at little as a year with additional coursework, and the federal government is providing enough funding to pay for a year of full-time study at many colleges and universities.

One federally funded educational program for the unemployed gives qualifying adults a $5,500 Pell Grant toward their college coursework at a qualifying community college, public college or university as well as a lot of technical colleges and trade schools. That makes it possible for people who have little to no college education to attend specialized trade schools to learn valuable and in-demand skills, like Internet technology, computer technician, motorcycle mechanic, graphic artist, truck driver, and other skills and careers that generally pay well and do not require four-year degrees.

While the Pell Grant program is popular, several other federal programs also are designed to help the unemployed obtain additional education and training that enables them to find not only good jobs but also long-lasting careers. The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant offers up to $4,000 toward educational costs to help unemployed adults obtain additional training and work education to become more employable.

As with the Pell Grant program, any funds awarded through the federal assistance do not need to be repaid by the recipient. Between the Pell Grant and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, qualifying adults can obtain nearly $10,000 in federal funding, which is plenty for current college graduates to earn another degree or for nearly anyone who qualifies to obtain specialized vocational training and start new careers. Individuals interested in the federal grant programs must submit standard federal student aid forms to determine eligibility and award amounts.

Because the federal programs have finite funding, the sooner people apply, the greater the chance they can obtain grants to continue their educations and enhance their job skills. General qualifications for obtaining a Pell Grant include not being in default on any current student loans, having a high school diploma or GED certificate and being either a U.S. citizen or program-eligible non-citizen. Administers of financial aid at participating educational institutions are instructed to assess current economic conditions of unemployed individuals when assessing Pell Grant eligibility as well as for other federal grant programs.

Other programs also offer ways to get a free education. For those who qualify and are not subject to family obligations that keep them tied to the United States, the Peace Corps provides excellent opportunities to participate in philanthropic endeavors overseas while enhancing the resume and earning debt forgiveness on their student loans. Domestic programs, such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and TEACH Grant Program, encourage professionals to complete their college educations and then work in underprivileged areas of the United States for a period of time, often times no more than five years, to eliminate some or even all of their student loan debts.

More information on various grant programs that fund additional training for the unemployed generally is available through either state unemployment offices or through the financial aid offices of participating educational institutions. If interested in a particular educational program, contacting the respective school's financial aid office should help to learn more about potential funding for unemployed workers. Most financial aid offices since the start of the Great Recession in 2009 made a point of emphasizing training to deal with returning and unemployed students looking to enhance their educations and job skills.

For those who have student loans and are unemployed, it's important to know that income-based repayment options exist that will help a great deal without increasing the amount of debt owed. Many student loan companies like to encourage borrowers to take on additional debt through graduated repayment plants, interest-only payments and by taking forbearances and deferments that continue to accrue interest. In nearly every instance, those kinds of repayment methods all result in more money owed to the lender.

With income-based repayment plans, lenders simply use a formula to determine the amount of discretionary income they have available to repay student loans. When the monthly payment amount for the regularly scheduled student loan payment exceeds 10 percent of the worker's monthly income, he or she is eligible for income-based repayments.

Most people who draw unemployment do not receive enough to keep their student loan payments from qualifying for income-based repayments. And for many, their monthly payment would be zero with no interest accruing, which is why lenders generally frown upon income-based repayment plans and generally advise other methods that result in people owing them more instead of less.

*IMPORTANT: Be sure to check with your State for details on your full eligibility requirements, or to begin the voluntary benefits process.