Welding (copy)

KCC, through a federal government program, will be offering free tuition or course materials for qualified students in the school’s manufacturing program beginning this fall.

KANKAKEE — A host of financial aid options will be available to benefit Kankakee Community College students in the fall thanks to federal COVID-19 relief funding and other federal grants.

One federal grant program in particular — a U.S. Department of Labor grant called “One Workforce” — promises to foot the bill for tuition and all associated costs over the next four years for qualifying students in the college’s manufacturing technology programs.

To qualify for this assistance, students have to reside in northeast Illinois or northwest Indiana, be 17 years of age or older and not currently in high school, and be unemployed or underemployed.

The grant also targets underrepresented groups including minorities, women, individuals living in disadvantaged communities, new Americans, and justice-involved individuals, according to a KCC news release.

The programs of study covered under the grant lead to jobs in manufacturing-related industries, such as welding and electrical engineering.

“The jobs related to these programs are some of the most in-demand jobs in our area,” KCC spokeswoman Kari Nugent said.

Mark Anderson, director of manufacturing training at KCC, said the “One Workforce” grant funding will be available for the next four years, so current high school juniors and seniors can also think about taking advantage if they are planning on community college after graduation.

“This (funding) is a four-year deal, so hopefully we’re going to help populate our manufacturing industry with qualified workers,” he said.

Anderson said he expects that with this assistance available, the number of students enrolling in manufacturing courses at KCC will “at least double.”

“There’s a desperate need for advanced manufacturing, to fill those positions,” he said. “I get emails every single day from our local manufacturers looking for industrial maintenance technicians, welders, machine tool operators, and even just production workers that work on the floor.”

Anderson noted that, even before the pandemic, the manufacturing industry was wanting for workers. The two most in-demand types of positions are industrial maintenance and welding, he said.

As an example, a student could earn a manufacturing production certificate with 14 credit-hours, and it can be completed as quickly as one semester. That would get someone’s foot in the door for an entry level production job, with around $15 to $20 an hour pay to start.

The grant would cover all of the expenses to earn the certificate (tuition, books, fees, PPE) and it would also pay for the student to continue on and earn an associate degree, which is 63 credit hours and can be completed in two years.

The associate degree would typically run a student around $12,000 to complete.

“(Employers) are really desperate to get people to work right now, and with this grant, I think it’s going to be a win-win situation,” Anderson said.

He said that when he first learned of this grant, it sounded “too good to be true,” especially with how few requirements there are for students to qualify.

“If you’re out of high school and you’re underemployed or unemployed, and you want to get into manufacturing — it’s mind boggling, I’m still scratching my head over it — they’re gonna pay for it. It’s that easy.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the manufacturing programs at KCC and the One Workforce grant funding should contact Anderson at 815-802-8873 or manderson@kcc.edu.

OTHER FUNDING

The federal government’s pandemic relief packages provided most of the money KCC is now distributing, according to a KCC news release.

The college has received Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF II) under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA).

In the near future, additional funding of $3.2 million for Fall 2021 students will become available through the American Rescue Plan (ARP) HEERF III.

In all, KCC will distribute nearly $4.5 million in HEERF funds.

Students enrolled in the Fall 2021 semester at KCC can apply for financial assistance to pay for tuition and books, as well as various other expenses while pursuing their higher education goals.

Students will not have to pay the money back, and it will not impact their eligibility for other federal student aid, including the Pell grant, which is calculated by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Michelle Hasik, KCC’s director of financial aid, said in the news release that these funds will help students overcome financial barriers created by the pandemic.

“We want to help our students move forward with their educational goals,” she said in the release. “We are able to draw from several sources to help students cover college expenses such as tuition, books, housing, and childcare. In most cases, we are able to provide substantial aid to assist our students.”

Reporter

Stephanie Markham joined the Daily Journal in February 2020 as the education reporter. She focuses on school boards as well as happenings and trends in local schools. She earned her B.A. in journalism from Eastern Illinois University.