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Tight squeeze: Community college enrollments skyrocket as more workers seek retraining, but state funding for schools is shrinking

 
The Washington Post
 
LAS VEGAS - The gambling economy here has crapped out, but at the swelling community college, workers are in the grip of new aspirations.

In one small anatomy lab, there's a craps dealer training to become an anesthetist, a cocktail waitress who wants to be a dental hygienist, and a former stripper seeking to become a nurse.

"People are always going to be going to the dentist," explained Misty Stevenson, 36, the aspiring hygienist, a mother of three and a cocktail waitress for 16 years, explaining her career choice after her income plunged during the downturn.

The trouble is getting a seat in class.

All over the United States, community college enrollments have surged with unemployed and underemployed people seeking new skills.

But just as workers have turned to community colleges, states have cut their budgets, forcing the institutions to turn away legions of students and stymieing the efforts to retrain the workforce.

Unemployment is highest among the nation's lesser-educated workers, and for them, community colleges offer a critical pathway to new jobs: Classes are open, relatively cheap and often tailored to picking up job skills.

The process of retraining these workers is considered vital to rebuilding the economy.

The institutions are "a gateway for millions of Americans to good jobs and a better life," President Obama said at a community college summit in the fall.

But with waning state budgets, that gateway is narrowing.
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