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Financial assistance program expands into additional high-demand fields

Financial assistance program expands into additional high-demand fields

NORFOLK, NE - A statewide financial assistance program for those pursuing high-demand, high-skill and high-wage fields has been expanded at the Center for Enterprise (CFE) at Northeast Community College.

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce predicts by 2020, 71-percent of Nebraska jobs will require some form of postsecondary education. And the Community College Gap Assistance Program, administered by the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education, aims to anticipate this shortage of skilled workers by offering financial aid to low-income community college students taking non-credit courses in high-need fields.

But because their classes are non-credit and do not lead directly to a degree, these students do not qualify for federal financial assistance, even though they may need it.

“Creating the Gap program is a way to reach out to the unemployed and under-employed individuals who were not college-bound immediately after high school, or individuals who have had ‘life happen,’ and they don’t have the time or finances to go to college full-time but need a hand up to make a better life for themselves and their families,” said Amy Kaiser, CFE educational programmer.

“Ideal students would be those individuals who are unemployed or underemployed and are looking for a way to better themselves, those looking to start a new career or change careers, or those that don’t have the finances or the time to return to school full time.”

The program, approved by the Nebraska Legislature in 2015, received nine-percent of available Nebraska Lottery funds set aside for education each year.

The programs currently available at Northeast that qualify for Gap assistance include HAZWOPER, CDL training, CDL training with transport quality assurance certifications, professional truck driving, certified pharmacy technician exam preparation, gas metal (MIG) and flux cored arc welding, introduction to drafting, manufacturing boot camp, medication aide, nurse aide, OSHA for general industry and precision measurement.

“Each program either cross-walks directly into a credit certificate, diploma or degree program, or has a recognized certificate awarded to all participants who successfully complete the program,” said Eric Johnson, associate vice president of the CFE.

Johnson explained that Gap programs are developed based on industry demand, advisory committee recommendations or Department of Labor data points. For example, the pharmacy technician exam preparation course originated with the new Department of Health and Human Services requirement that all pharmacy technicians be certified by 2017. The course offers a comprehensive study review that is aligned with the requirements of the exam and expectations of employers.

Students must meet three requirements to qualify for Gap assistance: residency in the state of Nebraska, U.S. citizenship or qualified alien status, and a family income at or below 250-percent of poverty guidelines as established by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Johnson said all candidates for Gap assistance participate in an entrance interview to discuss their ability to benefit from the program. They also communicate an understanding of the workplace and help identify a “fit” with partnering employers. Once accepted, candidates stay connected to the program throughout the training and also report their job status six months after successful completion of their program.

Johnson said the Gap Assistance Program has the potential to transform students’ entire lives.

“I have seen full-grown men become emotional after successfully completing the program and being placed in a career that will change their family’s future.”

For more information on the Gap Assistance Program, contact Amy Kaiser, CFE educational programmer, at (402) 844-7245 or visit