Scholarships for Adult Learning
The traditional 18-22-year-old college student featured in glossy university brochures and frat party movies isn't an accurate reflection of the U.S. college student population. In fact, today's primary college student is the adult learner: more than 40% of 21st-century college students are at least 25 years old, and approximately 13% are single parents. Even in a stable economy, most need financial aid to cover education costs. If you've always thought college scholarships were only for students straight out of high school, you'll be glad to know there are scholarships for adult learning. Here are some tips on where to look for them.
Federal aid first
Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) immediately. Contrary to what you may think, federal financial aid is determined by family income, not by age. The amount of aid you receive will depend on whether you're a full-, half-, or part-time student, but as long as you are working toward an accredited degree or certificate/diploma, there are no age restrictions on federal or state financial aid.
Federal scholarships for adult learning include Pell Grants, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), the Work-Study program, and Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants. Congress just increased maximum Pell Grants to $5,350 in 2009 and $5,550 in 2010. The number of Pell Grants was also increased by 800,000 grants. Your FAFSA is your Pell Grant application. If your income qualifies you for a Pell Grant, you'll automatically get one.
Most states also use the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for state-sponsored grants and scholarships for adult learning. With the millions of dollars they have just received via the 2009 economic stimulus bill, many states have quickly developed career education and retraining programs.
Your school's scholarships
If you are already enrolled, or thinking of enrolling, in a school, talk to a financial aid counselor there as soon as you've submitted your FAFSA. Many grants and scholarships for adult learning are provided by individual colleges and universities to help nontraditional students begin or stay in school.
Also ask whether your school has an Alpha Sigma Lambda Chapter. Alpha Sigma Lambda is the national honor society for nontraditional adult students, which offers a number of scholarships for adult learning.
If your school doesn't have any adult learning scholarships appropriate for you, they may be able to provide you with the names of alumni associations and local organizations or foundations that do.
Your employer or HR department: tuition reimbursement
Your employer may not seem like an obvious scholarship source, but many companies offer benefits that employees never hear about. Even small businesses sometimes offer tuition reimbursement for higher education, advanced training, and retraining programs that increase the value of your contribution to the company, and employers associated with large national industries may have access to scholarships through trade organizations.
Your union or professional association's scholarships
If you belong to a union, professional association, or trade association, contact your local representative and ask if the group provides any scholarships for adult learning. A good example is the Two Ten Footwear Foundation, which provides college scholarships to students affiliated with the footwear, leather, or allied industries. Another example is the Union Plus Scholarship Program, which has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships to labor union members and their families.
National organizations and foundations
Many national organizations, philanthropic societies, charitable foundations, and private companies are sources of scholarships for adult learning. Talbot's, the retail clothing store, awards 55 scholarships per year to women who are returning to school to complete their first undergraduate degree and Coca-Cola provides 150 adult learning scholarships a year for students enrolled in community college.
The Women's Independence Scholarship Program, Inc. has two scholarship programs, one for women who have left an abusive domestic situation and who are pursuing higher education intended to provide financial independence and stability for themselves and their children, and another for employees of domestic violence service agencies.
Your local Chamber of Commerce may also know of local or national scholarships.
Scholarship Database on the Federal Student Aid Website
The Federal Student Aid website has a database of scholarships from around the country. Scholarships in this database are NOT federal grants; they are scholarships offered by individual schools, cultural organizations, professional associations, and charitable foundations. Many scholarships are school-specific. Search for scholarships you may be eligible for by using scholarship terms relevant to you and your experience, such as "adult learner," "nontraditional learner," "women," the name of your state for state scholarships, or the subject you wish to study in school.
Lisa Ruffino is a Editorial Contributor for CourseAdvisor.com