Find a way to pay for new job skills

By Henry DeVries

A red hot issue in this year’s election campaigns is the nationwide call for an economy with good jobs for all. The hidden issue is America’s job gap, the disparity between the good jobs being created by innovation in the U.S. and the lack of American workers with the skills to fill these good jobs. Our American workforce is out of alignment with technological advances because the U.S. does not continuously retrain as Europe and Asia do.

How to pay for continuing education is a troubling issue for many San Diegans who want to gain new job skills. A great deal of resources go toward training young people as they leave high school and pursue college or trade school education. Long before President Obama vowed that America will "have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world" by 2020, the desirability of going to college was firmly embedded in the American psyche. Parents put money aside, the federal and state governments provide financial aid, and generous individuals and companies fund scholarships.

The percentage of students who go on to college or trade school within a year of high school climbed from 47 percent to 67 percent in the last 30 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That translates to more than 18 million per year. Meanwhile, tuition and fees during that same period, adjusted for inflation, rose 439 percent, towering over increases in medical care, housing and food. Median family only income rose 147 percent during the same period, forcing many high school parents and college students wondering how to maximize their return on this tremendous investment.

But what about those who have already been down that road and now need new skills? Here are eight ways to find help to pay the cost of continuing education:

  1. Employers. As an employee benefit, many employers will reimburse all or part of your tuition at an accredited school. Employers appreciate employees who are willing to go the extra mile by taking courses at night or on weekends. At UC San Diego Extension, about 45 percent of students in certificate programs receive all or part of their fees paid by their employer.

  2. Grants. A grant is money that does not have to be repaid. Typically these are offered by the federal government, state agencies, and colleges.

  3. Work Study. If you can work your way through school, work study programs give you money for working while going to school.

  4. Scholarships. For students with promise and potential, an increasing number of merit scholarships are now being offered. For example, at UC San Diego Extension scholarships are offered to University of California alumni for up to $5,500.

  5. Military Service. There are many programs offered by the U.S. Armed Forces to provide financial aid for continuing education.

  6. Workforce Development. Money is available to retrain out of work San Diegans. For example, more than 40 programs at the San Diego State College of Extended Studies are approved by the local San Diego Workforce Partnership for free tuition. The Workforce Partnership has specific eligibility requirements to receive this funding. To determine if you qualify, visit one of the six One-Stop Career Centers in San Diego.

  7. Military Spouse. If you are the spouse of a military person, you are eligible for free financial aid through the Military Spouse Department of Defense financial aid program. At San Diego State University Extension a variety of educational opportunities are available to choose from in areas such as health care, hospitality, technology, construction, and human resources.

  8. Student Loans. A loan is borrowed money that must be repaid. Various local banks, credit unions, and lending institutions now offer private loan programs specifically for continuing education. The hope is you will be able to borrow money at a lower interest rate than you can with say your credit card. The difference in interest rates is in fact financial aid. Check with your local financial institution to see what types of programs may be available.

To close our local job gap we need to create and keep good jobs in America by supporting innovative small companies and retraining people to be qualified for new technologies. The time has come to sync training with innovation to get ahead of the curve. Machinists who once worked in auto plants need to be reskilled for wind energy. Medical workers skilled in high touch need to operate high tech devices so healthcare can go digital. As countless jobs go green, all Americans need to learn how to run a planet-sustaining economy.

Final piece of advice: If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Find the training you want and then ask the school for the various ways to pay for continuing education.

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