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Amanda J. Billings
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This Story is provided by The Herald Times

GE workers getting education assistance

Grants, advice available to soon-to-be-laid-off workers re-entering academic world

By Nicole Brooks 331-4232 |
July 24, 2008

Going back to school after years in the work world can be scary, and local academic and city and county government leaders are teaming up to make the transition smoother for adults looking to return to the classroom.

A sense of urgency surrounds those wanting to help nontraditional students either earn a degree or brush up on their career skills — nearly 900 General Electric employees will lose their jobs when the local refrigerator factory shuts down late next year.

Scholarships available

The first group of IU’s Continuing Studies new Osher Re-entry Scholars Program scholarships, available to both full- and part-time adult students ages 25 to 50, will be awarded for the spring 2009 semester. The initiative’s primary focus will be on students seeking the general studies degree, but adults pursuing all undergraduate degrees at IU Bloomington are invited to apply.

To get program eligibility guidelines and application forms, complete an information request form at or call 855-4991, menu option 1.

“A lot of the employees at GE have been working there for 20, 25 years. It’s been a long time since they’ve actively been seeking employment or entering (higher) education,” said Danise Alano, the city’s economic development director and head of the GE response team.

The response team is tasked with, among other goals, assisting employees with financial and emotional counseling and with figuring out their next move, Alano said. While about 60 percent of the GE plant’s employees will be eligible for retirement, many will want to stay in the workforce, she said.

And many are preparing to help them do just that.

Ivy Tech options

Ivy Tech Community College Bloomington Chancellor John Whikehart and others are working with GE’s labor union leaders to identify workers interested in going back to school and gaining new job skills.

“We are chomping at the bit. We are eager to get in and get started with this,” Whikehart said of the college’s efforts to help displaced workers.

Ivy Tech has secured a $125,000 Lilly Endowment grant that will fund a case manager and temporary training center inside the GE plant, Whikehart said. There, workers can, at their own pace and in a familiar setting, receive computer-based remediation courses in math and reading. The goal is to prepare these adults for the academic classroom.

“There’s enough stress in this situation,” without jumping straight from a work environment to a college campus, Whikehart said.

A number of Ivy Tech staff members are former GE employees, he added.

“We think they are our best ambassadors,” and they will go into the plant to do some career advising and academic assessment training, Whikehart said.

IU scholarships for adults

IU’s Continuing Studies has secured funding earmarked specifically for adults ages 25 to 50, said Ronald White, executive director of that department.

A grant awarded by the Bernard Osher Foundation of San Francisco will provide $50,000 a year for three years to develop the Osher Re-entry Scholars Program at IU. If the Osher Foundation is happy with the scholars program, White said, the group will establish at the end of the three years a $1 million endowment for lifelong learners at IU.

“Certainly they’re rare in terms of scholarships for adults,” White said of this type of grant. Grant money is crucial for adult leaners, he said, because financial aid administrators often look at an adult’s salary and think, “Well, you ought to be able to pay for school.”

But that adult learner likely has a mortgage to pay and perhaps children in college, White added.

“The adult returning to school easily gets caught in that financial squeeze,” he said.

While the Osher scholarship money is not earmarked for former GE employees, that group is on White’s radar.

“We’re looking at all ways we can help them,” he said.

White will this year chair the Bloomington Lifelong Learning Coalition, a group formed before the GE announcement. The coalition seeks to raise the visibility of adult learning opportunities in the community.

Its membership includes the Bloomington mayor’s office, IU, Ivy Tech, Bloomington Parks and Recreation, Monroe County Community School Corp., the Bloomington Area Arts Council, the Monroe County Public Library and WorkOne.

The coalition has been meeting monthly since the first of the year, and will host a free weeklong informational event starting Sept. 8.