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KCTCS aims 2-for-1 deal at unemployed

FRANKFORT — Kentuckians who have lost their jobs amid the sour economy can get two classes for the price of one at the Kentucky Community and Technical Colleges in a new pilot program announced Tuesday.

The college system's Career Transitions initiative, which KCTCS President Michael McCall and Gov. Steve Beshear unveiled Tuesday at a Capitol news conference, would allow any Kentuckian who lost a job and filed for unemployment benefits since Oct. 1, 2008, to take up to six credit hours in a term at half price.

That would allow a displaced worker to take two courses and pay for only one at the system's 16 community colleges and technical schools around the state. At a reduced rate of $60.50 a credit hour, two courses would cost $363.

"We think this program will enable us to find a silver lining, albeit a small one, in the economic turmoil around us," Beshear said.

In addition to a tuition break, the new initiative will connect out-of-work students with a streamlined admissions process, help with filling out financial aid forms and advising sessions to ease the transition into the classroom.

The program will launch in time for the summer class session. McCall said it will last a year, partly so college officials can see how many displaced students take advantage of the scholarship.

"We felt we had an obligation to do something for the benefit of this great state that we all live in," McCall said.

The college system will pay for the program out of existing funds, but a final cost won't be known until students are finished enrolling. McCall said the program will probably help the school by filling seats in some courses.

Tammy Booth of Paintsville was among the last 50 employees at American Standard's Johnson County plant, which closed in October as the last few units of the kitchen and bath production facility moved to Mexico.

When the plant closed Oct. 18, Booth was three weeks shy of being with the company 31 years and getting a full pension.

She has since picked up where she left off several years earlier with classes at Big Sandy Community and Technical College, working toward a degree in medical information technology. She hopes the new program will help pay for her last few required courses, such as medical office software, personal finance and interpersonal communications.

"We will look into that for her," said Susan K. Chafin, Booth's adviser at Big Sandy.

Booth said she wants to work in a doctor's office or Eastern Kentucky hospital.

"I'm just looking forward to working in a hospital setting," she said. And "I don't want to have to relocate at all."

McCall said the program will be tailored to each of the system's 67 campuses to make sure students are trained in high-growth careers that fit the needs of the surrounding areas.

The move comes as the state has seen its unemployment rate surge to 8.7 percent in January — a 22-year high. The burgeoning number of out-of-work Kentuckians has emptied the state's unemployment insurance fund, forcing it to borrow from the federal government.

Meanwhile, thousands of Kentuckians and their families face uncertain futures, Beshear said.

"Statistics only hint at the misery," Beshear said. "Behind every impersonal number is the face of a family in crisis."