The unstable economy has caused many adults to lose jobs or to worry that they may become unemployed soon. For these people, going back to school to start a new career or to earn better credentials seems to be the answer. However, the tough economy makes paying for college a major concern. It is not only tuition that potential adult students must consider. There is also a loss of income for many as well as the increased expenses involved with attending school. Luckily, there are many ways that adult students can pay for a college education without tapping into retirement funds or taking on mountains of student loan debt.
Discounted or Free Education
In many areas of the country, or for specific industries, there are free job training programs. The Department of Labor’s One Stop career Centers are located across the country. Through these centers, adults can take advantage of discounted or free courses to enter careers in everything from computer programming to substance abuse counseling.
In addition, many states offer job training programs in a variety of industries. These programs may be run independently, or may be operated in conjunction with local community colleges. Typically, these programs are designed to train people to work in rapidly growing careers or those that have a shortage of workers.
Grants and Scholarships
Many adults mistakenly believe that there is no financial aid available to them. When considering going back to college, the first step should be to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. This form is necessary to be eligible for student loans, subsidized work study programs, and federal grants. Contrary to popular belief, federal student aid has no age limitations, so adult students have an opportunity to receive assistance just as younger students do.
Once you fill out the FAFSA, you may also be qualified to receive scholarships or grants through the college you choose to attend. Finally, you can search for scholarships on your own that are geared toward older students. While many private scholarships cater to younger students there are more than fifty that are exclusively available to older students.
Tax Deductions and Credits
Adult students can also offset some of their higher education expenses through tax deductions and credits. Of these, the Lifetime Learning Credit is the most useful to adult students. This credit equals 20% of any qualified educational expenses paid up to a total of $10,000. The maximum credit amount is $2,000, which will cover a large part of the tuition at a community college. Since this is a credit instead of a deduction, it reduces your taxes dollar for dollar. In addition, the credit is available even if you are not a full-time student or in a degree-granting college program and it is available for every year you are studying.
If you are pursuing your first undergraduate degree, you may also be eligible for the American Opportunity Tax Credit. This credit is valued at $2,500 a year. In addition, students who are taking classes for the purpose of job advancement can deduct money paid on books, tuition, and other necessary school supplies.
If you are still employed but need to advance your skills in order to keep your job, your employer may provide tuition reimbursement that will help cover your costs. Even if they don’t have such a program, they may help if you ask and can explain how the education you receive will benefit the company.
Finally, if you have completed military service, you may receive assistance through the G.I. bill. These benefits vary based on the amount of service and current service status. Benefits may also vary based on average educational expenses in the state in which you live. The Department of Veterans Affairs has full information for students who qualify.
Returning to school can involve a great deal of sacrifice as well as a large investment of time and money. What is important to remember is that this is an investment in your future earnings as opposed to an expense. With these financial helps, higher education is available to everyone.