Back to School Community Colleges Offer Ways for Out-of-Worksuburbanites Toget Back on the Job

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Byline: Matt Arado marado@dailyherald.com

For many suburbanites forced out of work by the recession, the road back to financial security runs through the local community college.

Thousands of unemployed and underemployed residents are turning to these schools for all kinds of services, from tips on how to write the best resume to training for a brand-new career.

Community colleges usually see an uptick in interest during tough economic times. This year, though, that interest is off the charts. Consider:

* A job fair hosted by the College of Lake County recently saw roughly 1,500 job seekers attend. Normally, such events attract between 700 and 800 people.

* The number of adult applications for the spring 2009 term at Harper College in Palatine is up by roughly 39 percent over last year at this time. Officials believe the economy is helping drive that increase.

* The admissions office at the College of DuPage reports that double the usual number of people are inquiring about the schools "For Your Information" workshops, which explain what the school offers to adult learners.

"So many people out there need retraining or career help, and theyre realizing that community colleges provide a pretty good return on the investment," said Gwendolyn Koehler, executive dean of corporate, continuing and adult education at McHenry County College.

The people turning to community colleges these days come from a variety of backgrounds, officials say. Some are looking for their first college-level coursework. Others already have earned bachelors degrees but seek additional training after being downsized.

"Were seeing all kinds coming

in and asking about our programs," said Angela Nackovic, adult recruitment project manager at College of DuPage. "I know a lot are telling us theyve lost a job."

The economy has spurred some schools to launch new programs and incentives in an effort to get people back to work. Oakton Community College, for example, offered free tuition on a number of programs last semester to full-time workers whod lost their jobs. In February, the College of Lake County started offering a popular, and free, weekly support group for unemployed residents.

"Its easy when youve lost a job to feel helpless and overstressed," said Sylvia M. Johnson, executive director of career and placement services at CLC. "This program gives people a chance to share what theyre going through. It helps them stay energized and make contacts." Johnson said 20 to 25 people have attended the sessions each week, adding that the overall demand for the colleges career services has doubled.

Harper College has launched a series of new programs for the unemployed under the name "Re/New You." Included are seminars and workshops about finding a job, starting a new career, managing stress and other issues, along with a monthly support group for those who have been laid off or are changing careers.

The first meeting of the support group, known as the Career Stimulus program, drew 250 people.

"The response has been unbelievable," Nancy Wajler, an adult learning special assistant at Harper, said about the Career Stimulus support group. …