Search the site:
Illinois Country Living

Alternative Education

Reinventing Yourself
Alternative education programs bring hope to displaced workers

By Ed VanHoose

LLCC truck driving school

Students enrolled in LLCC’s truck driver training program must complete 160 hours of training with at least three weeks of “in-truck” experience.

Top of page: Randy Myers performs a pre-trip inspection as part of his training in the truck driving industry at Lincoln Land Community College.

Times are hard. In October of 2009, unemployment rates in the United States reached nearly 10 percent. With scores of Americans out of work, many are turning to educational institutions as a means to reinvent themselves.

Randy Myers of Decatur is one such individual.

When asked about his motivation for returning to school Myers said, “I was working at Caterpillar and we went through a RIF (Reduction in Force) which caused me to be laid off in April. After I collected myself, I began to talk to my fiancé and others. I found the truck driver training program here at Lincoln Land Community College (LLCC) and decided to enroll. I needed to find a way to take care of my family. I don’t like not working.”

Myers is not alone in his desire to improve himself. People all around Illinois are seeking alternatives in higher education, and the state’s colleges are responding by offering programs suited to the needs of adult learners.

Bob Howard, Director of the Truck Driver Training Center at LLCC ( explains the role of programs.

“Folks that I see in this economy that take advantage of some kind of training, whether it be at a college or some kind of trade school — they tend to come out of it a lot better. And they tend to come out of it with a skill set that will keep them from getting unemployed in the future. If they do get unemployed they can go somewhere else and work, rather than just going to the same factory over and over.”

The truck driver-training program is just one offering at LLCC. Through its Workforce Development and Community Education division, LLCC has broadened its course offerings beyond the traditional brick-and-mortar classroom setting.

Dr. Judy Jozaitis, Vice President
of the center, spoke about LLCC’s strategy for expanding programs.

“Here in the Workforce Development center, we are always on the lookout for where there are job openings, what will be needed in terms of staff and what kinds of skills they’re going to need. Then we look for ways to develop and offer these programs,” Jozaitis says.

By tailoring its programs toward emerging careers, and forming relationships with potential employers LLCC is able to provide job placement assistance to its students. Currently, the truck driver-training program has a track record of 100 percent placement of students after they graduate.

Lincoln College’s ABE program

Students enrolled in Lincoln College’s ABE program can earn a bachelor’s degree by attending classes specifically designed for working adults.

Howard says, “Every student that was involved in our program was offered a legitimate job. We don’t just teach truck driving. We literally change lives.”

LLCC’s approach to alternative education is shared by Heartland Community College (, with campuses in Normal, Lincoln and Pontiac. Heartland now offers several courses designed to provide high quality energy education and training for consumers, businesses and renewable energy installers. With emerging energy technologies becoming ever more important to the U.S. economy, these courses are becoming an increasingly valuable resource to professionals looking to keep up with the new energy market. In fact, many of the courses are specifically tailored toward professionals already familiar with traditional energy-related technologies.

Julie Elzanati, Coordinator of the Green Institute for Heartland Community College says, “If an HVAC installer gets laid off, they could enroll and get skills in an emerging area. The program should fit them perfectly because they already have a basic skill set in the field.”

Heartland offers a variety of options for students, ranging from one-day classes on the possible jobs in the energy field to a renewable energy degree through its technology department. In the spring of 2010 Heartland plans to offer several different certifications including the BPI Building Analyst Certification. The BPI or “Building Performance Institute” certification will provide intensive training to evaluate existing residences for energy improvements. Evaluations can range from weatherization needs to examination of the types of heating and cooling systems installed in a home.


Millikin University has designed a new nursing program for adults with a bachelor’s in a non-nursing field to prepare for licensure as a Registered Nurse.

Heartland also offers several one-day renewable energy courses including Solar Domestic Hot Water Systems, Basic Photovoltaics and Introduction to Wind Systems.

According to Elzanati, “The Occupational Wage Survey for Illinois indicates that the average salaries for electrical and electronic technicians range from $45,000 to $60,000 a year, with entry level wages averaging between $14 and $20 an hour.” Heartland has found an interest in their graduates from employers from renewable energy firms, utilities, building automaton companies and construction-related industries. While Heartland does offer each of its courses individually, Renewable Energy and Environmental Controls courses combined make up the Associate in Applied Science degree in Renewable Energy that will prepare students for entry level employment in a variety of settings. Students obtaining this degree will ensure they have the credentials to match their experience in the field, and the knowledge of emerging technologies necessary to compete in the modern market.

Of course, not everyone is suited for a career in a renewable energy field. Many students are contemplating going back to school for the first time since high school. Fortunately, there are programs available for students of all walks of life. One such program is Lincoln College’s Accelerated Bridge to Education or “ABE” program.

Lincoln College’s ABE program ( is a bachelor’s degree program designed specifically for working adults. Students can earn a bachelor’s degree in a variety of subjects including Business Administration, Liberal Arts, Health Services Administration, or even a Certificate in Dental Services Management. One of the most attractive benefits of the ABE program is that students can earn up to 27 credits in the program for prior work or life experience.

Jenna Basset, Assistant Director for the program, says, “The main trend I’ve seen is our students have reached a glass ceiling, so to speak, in their careers. They have experience and the life knowledge, but are constantly being overlooked for desired positions because the other applicants for the position have ‘Bachelor’s Degree’ on their resume. Our students know that when they complete their degree, they’ll be able to move up in their careers and in pay, enabling them to provide a better life for themselves and their families.”

Programs such as Lincoln College’s ABE are so important precisely because so many college students now must also support a family. Melissa Rohlfs, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Lincoln College, is quick to point out that, “More than one-third of students in U.S. higher education are now 25 and older – by 2012 it will be one half.” With a greater influx of non-traditional students, it’s no wonder that programs like Lincoln’s ABE program are becoming more common.

Millikin University (, with campuses in Decatur and on the Parkland College campus in Champaign, offers a similar program called the Professional Adult Comprehensive Education (PACE) program. It is designed for adults who want to earn a degree but need to work around a job, family and community commitments. The PACE program offers a choice of five Bachelor of Science degrees: Accounting, Early Childhood Education, Elementary Education, Nursing RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Organizational Leadership.

Amy Hodges, Media and Public Relations Coordinator for Millikin University, says, “The PACE program focuses on one course at a time, with classes held usually in the evening, one night per week. Because of the format of the courses, students in the PACE program are generally over 22 years of age, have work experience and may even have some college credit.”

Millikin also plans to offer a new track in their nursing degree program. Designed for adults with a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field to prepare for licensure as a Registered Nurse, this program will seek to fill the shortage of qualified nurses in Illinois. Other colleges are also planning for new programs.

At Wabash Valley College ( in Mt. Carmel, the Dean of Instruction, Theresa Marcotte, is excited about their upcoming advance-manufacturing program.

“We are merging several programs into an advance-manufacturing program. It will be a more current program that reflects where the science is going and evolving. We’re going to kick it off with a bio-fuels portion and certificate. We’ll look at creating bio-fuels and we’ll look at the performance of bio-fuels in diesel engines, so we’ll have a nice cross-over with our current Diesel Equipment Technology program.”

One common theme of all of the programs is a concern over paying for everything. Marcotte admits that funding is probably the biggest challenge to creating these new educational curriculums, but says that the Department of Labor has really helped out in getting these programs established.

“That’s what helping us transfer into advance manufacturing. The DOL grant was available specifically for that purpose and it fit in nicely with what we were trying to do — update our program.”

A shared sentiment among all of the colleges is the insistence that there is a program available out there for anyone. Anyone wanting more information on a college near them should contact to find the list of community colleges throughout the state. Although that site doesn’t list four-year institutions, any of the colleges listed would be able to assist a student.

Like Randy Myers says, “They show enough confidence in you that you begin to develop confidence in yourself. They keep us well grounded. We have great staff and teachers in Illinois.”


Paying for your education

Student in Manufacturing Program

A student at Wabash Valley College, a part of Illinois Eastern Community Colleges, takes part in the new advanced manufacturing program.

Once a person makes up the decision to go back to school, one question looms ominously: How am I going to pay for it? After all, everyone knows that college is prohibitively expensive, right? Not necessarily, says Carmen DeJesus, Assistant Director of Financial Aid for the University of Illinois Springfield.

“Students have a wide variety of options available to them when it comes to paying for college. The most important step they can take is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). By completing this document, students can find out what types of aid they qualify for.”

Some of the possibilities are federal grants, state grants and scholarships. The FAFSA alerts an educational institution when a student qualifies for financial assistance in paying for college. Potential students should fill out this document as early as possible when deciding to go back to school. The application can be found online at or by contacting the financial aid office of any educational institution.

Bob Howard of LLCC also suggests another program available to dislocated workers. “The program that Randy is coming through is called the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). It provides federal money from the Department of Labor to help people re-train if they’re laid off and getting unemployment.” To find out more information about WIA contact your educational institution.

In addition to grants, Illinois students also have loans available to help them pursue their education. The Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) still has $66 million available to make low-interest, federally-secured student loans to Illinois students through the Federal Family Education Loan Program for the 2009-10 academic year.

The Commission provides educational funding with student loans, as a loan
guarantor and via numerous public programs such as the successful Monetary Award
Program (MAP), the Illinois Veteran Grant and the College Illinois!® 529 Prepaid
Tuition Program. For more information, visit


© 2016 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

Designed and Maintained by Cooperative Design and Print.

Current Issue Archive About Us Advertisers Contact Us FAQ