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Study: Many Older MI Workers Locked Out of Education

September 9, 2008

Lansing, MI – Older Michigan workers who want to better themselves have a big hurdle, according to a new report from the Michigan League for Human Services. The League's Judy Putnam says those who want additional schooling to improve their skills or land a better job won't find much help.

"We looked at what financial aid programs are available to the older worker who needs some training or education, and we found very little out there."

She says the system is geared toward current students and recent graduates. Most financial aid programs are aimed at those going for a certificate or a degree, not at students just taking a course or two to improve their marketability.

Putnam says obstacles to improving their job skills are holding a lot of workers back.

"There are so many workers out there who are unemployed, or they're employed in lower-wage jobs that just cannot support a family. There's a tremendous need to raise the skills level and the education level of our workforce."

She notes that the cost of education continues to rise while Michigan's median income is falling, and that puts a real crunch on a low-income working household. But adult workers still can get a foot in the education door, she says.

"The report recommends that state-based financial aid programs build in some more flexibility to recognize the older worker, the adult learner who needs to go back to school or go to training."

Putnam says an option being used in other states is the "lifetime learning account," where employers match employee contributions, which are set aside for the worker to use as needed.

Jim Wishner/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - MI