Moms Get Help Returning to School

You’ve seen her — the animated, female icon who jumps up and down on your computer screen every time you open Yahoo or another website.

She’s usually accompanied by a headline that screams, "Obama Wants Moms to Return to School," and she flashes a promise of up to $10,000 in grant money.

Skeptical? You’re not alone.

“Many of those ads are for online schools that are not legitimate and often take a student’s financial aid and give little in return,” warns Katherine Arnoldi, author of The Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single Mom ($27.99, Hyperion).

But the hype is based partly on a new truth: There is help out there for moms who want to go back to school. It’s in the form of billions of dollars in stimulus money recently made available to help Americans — including single and married mothers — get college degrees or job training. The $17 billion package is the biggest increase in financial aid this country has seen since the GI Bill, according to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s office.

The first thing prospective students need to do is fill out a federal aid form called the FAFSA, which is required for anyone seeking federal money, including a Pell Grant, saysBelinda Keiser, vice chancellor of community relations and student ad-vancement at South Florida’s private Keiser University, where 70 percent of the 16,000 students are women and roughly 80 percent of those women are moms.

This school year, the highest Pell Grant awarded nationwide was $5,350. In 2010, that amount will increase to $5,550, under the stimulus plan, peaking at $6,900 by the year 2019.

The federal grants are awarded based on financial need, but there is also state money available, says Keiser, who chairs Workforce Florida, a governor-appointed public board that oversees the state’s workforce policy, programs and services.

This year, Florida received $165 million in workforce stimulus money, with $81 million going to “dislocated workers,” or people who are recently unemployed or underemployed to help them re-train and find jobs. This category includes stay-at-home moms or dads whose spouses have lost their jobs, Keiser says. Florida Workforce helps distribute some of that money through 100 One-Stop Career Centers around the state.

“We guide them through the process of assessing their skills, and if they don’t have skills to re-enter the workforce, they can be up-skilled,” says Mason Jackson, president and CEO of Workforce One in Broward.

After meeting certain criteria, such as proof of Florida residency and proof of income, as well as a barrier to employment, a single mom of three, for instance, could receive up to $6,000 for tools and tuition toward an education at an accredited university or college.

Maria Loaisiga, 48 and a mother of four, received enough financial aid through workforce funding to pay for her entire education at the Technical Career Institute in Miami, where she is studying to be a medical assistant.

Individual schools also can offer assistance.

Miami Dade College, for instance, offers some financial aid specifically for parents who want to earn a degree. Among these scholarships are the Child Care Scholarship and the Parent/Child Scholarship. Both provide aid for child services for parents who need childcare in order to go to school.

MDC also provides the Kettering Family Scholarship, which is for needy minority parents who are enrolled at the medical campus.

(Miami Herald)

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