JOHNSTOWN, PA- U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) has introduced legislation to reimburse community colleges that offer free tuition to workers who have lost their jobs. Senator Casey discussed the bill while visiting Pennsylvania Highlands Community College in Johnstown.
“In response to the economic crisis, many of Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges graciously volunteered to offer at least one semester of free tuition to workers who have lost their jobs,” said Senator Casey. “My bill will encourage other community colleges to do the same thing by authorizing the Department of Labor to reimburse schools for incurring this cost. Pennsylvania’s community colleges have shown great leadership and sacrifice to help displaced workers. They have set a great example for the federal government to follow and they should not have to foot the bill alone.”
“The Senator’s legislation is welcome news to those of us who have promoted tuition assistance for our displaced workers,” said Dr. Walter Asonevich, President of Pennsylvania Highlands Community College. “We are ready and willing to go it alone to make sure the residents of our region are provided the educational services they deserve, but it is great to know we may not have to cinch our belts quite so tight—not have to make sacrifices in other essential student services—thanks to the efforts of Senator Casey.”
The legislation would establish the Unemployment Tuition Assistance Program in the Department of Labor. Under this voluntary program, colleges may register to participate with the Department. Any individual applying for unemployment insurance will be notified that they may be eligible for benefits under the program. The Department is authorized to reimburse the community colleges up to $1,000 per student enrolled in the tuition assistance program. These funds would be allocated from existing funds for the Community Based Job Training grant program in the Department of Labor.
Schools are not required to provide this type of tuition assistance. According to the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges, for the Spring 2009 semester, Pennsylvania community colleges enrolled 1,062 unemployed workers in its free tuition program, awarding 8,481 credits at a cost of $741,788. The 10 participating schools, therefore, spent an average of less than $700 in opportunity cost for each student that was offered tuition assistance.