Breaking down the barriers to successful adult learning
For Liliana Chinchilla-Juan, her career interests have always included health care, but her pathway for getting there wasn’t always as straight forward. Chinchilla-Juan had taken a few college nursing courses in her home country, but after moving to Iowa in 2017, she found that education requirements were different in the United States and needed extra training. After attending Iowa Central Community College to strengthen her English-speaking skills and gain a high school equivalency degree, Chinchilla-Juan looked into a certified nursing assistant (CNA) class but was hesitant.
“I was a new mom and working at Tyson Foods,” Chinchilla-Juan said. “I didn’t have a lot of confidence but knew I wanted to go for something in nursing.”
With support through Gap Tuition Assistance as well as finding a part-time job as a dietary aide at a nursing home in Storm Lake, Chinchilla-Juan quit her job at Tyson Foods to enroll in the three-month CNA course.
“(With Gap Tuition Assistance,) I didn’t have to pay for anything,” Chinchilla-Juan said. “I learned so much in the course. It also helped pay for my licensing.”
Chinchilla-Juan completed the CNA course and is now employed as a CNA at the nursing home where she was a dietary aide. Chinchilla-Juan has already investigated the nursing program at Iowa Central Community College and is taking a few general pre-requisite classes. Although she is now a working mom with two kids, she hopes to enroll in the nursing program soon.
“It doesn’t matter how long it takes you. Just do it,” Chinchilla-Juan said. “All the chances you take, it will bring you something in the end.”
Like Chinchilla-Juan, many adults are interested in furthering their education and training but practical barriers, such as budget and family responsibilities, can be a huge deterrent to their career dreams.
That’s where Gap Tuition Assistance helps. The Gap Tuition Assistance program is available to help alleviate financial concerns for adult learners. All 15 Iowa community colleges receive funding to provide need-based tuition assistance to students who are participating in continuing education training programs for in-demand occupations.
Eligibility for Gap Tuition Assistance is based on the student’s finances. Students whose household incomes are at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level guidelines and who show the capacity to achieve success in school and employment are eligible for partial or full tuition assistance.
“Gap (Tuition Assistance) provides a way for adult learners to gain an education that can lead to employment while addressing the cost burden,” said Mike Williams, consultant at the Iowa Department of Education. “Without this assistance, they can’t always focus on getting the education that could help them become better skilled in their careers.”
Gap Tuition Assistance helps provide financial support for not only tuition but also training costs, required books, equipment and fees. Students interested in Gap Tuition Assistance must be enrolled in a program that offers training or a credential for an in-demand job area, such as health care, advanced manufacturing and transportation and logistics.
Along with support from Gap Tuition Assistance, students can also find financial aid through the Pathways for Academic Career and Employment program, also known as PACE. PACE provides funding to help address the additional barriers that adult learners may have for educational success, such as transportation, access to child care and tutoring costs. Similar to the eligibility qualifications for Gap Tuition Assistance, PACE is based on need and if the student is pursuing training for an in-demand job area. Recipients of PACE also receive assistance from a pathway navigator to help guide them on their career journey.
“We try to co-enroll students into Gap Tuition Assistance and PACE. If someone needs help with transportation costs or daycare costs, we enroll them for that support,” said Melissa Vorrie, workplace programs director at Iowa Central Community College. “We are really here to help them complete their employment goals.”
Like Chinchilla-Juan, Justin Bender also took a chance on education to further his career dreams. Although he was working as a forklift operator, Bender was always interested in being a truck driver.
“I’ve always wanted to do truck driving,” Bender said. “I’ve loaded trucks for a while but have always wanted to drive.”
Without hesitation, Bender started the three-month Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) program at Iowa Central Community College in July 2020. The Gap Tuition Assistance program paid for his tuition, and PACE helped pay for transportation costs.
“It was pretty easy. It helped me a lot,” Bender said. “PACE helped pay for transportation to the campus, and I didn’t have to pay anything to take the course.”
Bender also met with the pathway navigator during his time at Iowa Central Community College.
“It was pretty helpful. It showed me what my strong points were,” Bender said. “One of them was truck driving.”
Bender completed the CDL course and began working at a company as a truck driver hauling grain and chemicals in November 2020. He has reaped the benefits of his additional training and has definitely enjoyed his new job so far.
“I’ve always wanted to do it. It’s the type of work I like,” Bender said. “I don’t think I’d like over-the-road driving. Field work allows me to be home nightly.”
Iowa Central Community College sees Gap Tuition Assistance and PACE as vital programs for successful adult learning. During the past academic year at Iowa Central Community College, 55 students have used Gap Tuition Assistance, and 90 have used PACE.
“The financial piece is huge for students to attend school,” Vorrie said. “This year, the need has been higher, probably due to the pandemic, so they can get additional skills. Short-term certificate programs are in high demand.”
Gap Tuition Assistance as well as PACE provide the financial support to truly break down barriers to adult education and training.
“Gap (Tuition Assistance) really helped me out,” Bender said. “I didn’t think I could do that class due to costs, but then I heard about the program. It got me where I wanted to be.”