Financial obstacles continue to burden individuals who are seeking to advance their careers. Acquiring student loans and working multiple jobs while taking courses to acquire new skills can overwhelm even the most ambitious person driven to find a better future for themselves. By upskilling (learning new skills to advance in their current career), reskilling (learning new skills to switch careers), and cross-skilling (learning new skills to broaden their career portfolio), many individuals are taking academic pathways to make confident career shifts, find quality living-wage jobs, and position themselves for career growth.

LaGuardia Community College is providing opportunities for people to make their career goals a reality by offering workforce training scholarships. In 2023, LaGuardia served approximately 10,000 students in English as a Second Language (ESOL), General Educational Development (GED), and workforce training programs. These programs are developed and offered by the college’s Division of Adult and Continuing Education (ACE). Many LaGuardia degree-seeking students begin their college careers in ACE.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in unprecedented economic hardship for many of the 2.3 million residents of the borough of Queens, including LaGuardia students and their families. Thousands of Queens residents lost their jobs when travel was halted, and the city’s tourism sector shut down. Prolonged COVID lockdowns and work-from-home arrangements dramatically reduced economic activity in New York’s central business districts, leaving many service workers out of work or severely underemployed.

During this period, LaGuardia committed to leveraging the programs of its ACE division to help Queens residents get back on their feet. Since few of them had the time or resources to pursue a degree, college leaders determined that short-term job training programs leading to industry certifications in healthcare, technology, and building trades would be effective solutions for individuals who needed new skills and new jobs to support their families.

The challenge for LaGuardia and these students was figuring out who would pay. The average tuition for a LaGuardia industry certification course is about $1,600—putting it beyond the reach of the many unemployed, low-income New Yorkers in need of education and training to reenter the workforce. Since federal and New York State student financial aid is limited to degree-seeking students, a source of tuition subsidy would be required.

A LaGuardia student works in the college’s fabrication lab

Fortunately, the LaGuardia Foundation agreed to launch a new scholarship fund specifically for students in the ACE division. Foundation trustees had long supported academic scholarships for associate degree students, but given the unique hardships created by the pandemic, they quickly understood the need to extend their support to nondegree students. The Foundation also recognized that since the ACE division is a significant source of degree students for the college, where enrollment had been plummeting because of the pandemic, rebuilding ACE enrollment through new scholarships would support the college’s enrollment recovery.

During the pandemic, LaGuardia President Kenneth Adams led a special fundraising initiative called The Tomorrow Campaign in response to a generous challenge grant from a long-time supporter of the college. This resulted in $15 million in new
Foundation resources. Foundation trustees tapped these new funds to create the ACE Scholarship Fund. Scholarships were awarded to low-income students in ESOL, GED, and select workforce training programs. Most awards covered up to 80 percent of tuition. In some instances, 100 percent awards were granted. The maximum award is $7,200 for EMT training, LaGuardia’s most expensive program.

The ACE division still runs the scholarship program. At this point some students have received multiple awards, and awareness of the program is growing across the borough. Foundation trustees have embraced the initiative and allocate a significant portion of each year’s budget to it.

LaGuardia Community College ACE Scholarship Fund Awards

2021: 317 scholarships awarded, totaling $253,874
2022: 709 scholarships awarded, totaling $405,440
2023: 543 scholarships awarded, totaling $467,795

Three-year total: 1,569 scholarships awarded, totaling $1,127,109 (average award = $718)

Developing these scholarships for career and workforce development education programs is giving more students the chance to go back to the classroom, acquire new skills, and enhance their careers without going into debt. LaGuardia students who gain high-demand skills position themselves in front of today’s challenging job market and move up the socioeconomic ladder toward a bright future.

Kenneth Adams, M.A.

LaGuardia Community College

Sunil Gupta, Ed.D.

Vice President, Continuing Education
LaGuardia Community College

Lead image: LaGuardia students participate in the continuing education electrical workshop course


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