MIDDLESEX COUNTY – Taking a page from recent announcements of public-private partnerships formed to improve education and job opportunities and building on a federal program that supports returning college students, Middlesex County Freeholder Deputy Director Ronald G. Rios unveiled plans last night for the Middlesex County Education Stimulus Plan.
Rios said the Middlesex County Education Stimulus Program would establish a Public-Private Partnership to provide scholarships to 100 residents to attend Middlesex County College. Scholarships will include full tuition, a voucher for books at the college bookstore, application fees and counseling services.
“We will aggressively seek partners in the private sector to help us fund the program, which we believe can help our residents retool themselves for the job market and boost our local economy,” Rios said. “This is a win-win situation: Our residents who are out of work will gain the knowledge and skills they need to achieve workplace success, and our private partners can use this as a sound recruitment strategy.”
Rios said he drew inspiration for the county program from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to provide $100 million for the improvement of the public school system in Newark and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledge of $20 million in grants for businesses and universities to develop online programs to better train students in the basic skills they’ll need to thrive in college.
The Middlesex County Education Stimulus Program will focus on adults returning to or beginning college to complete a degree for increased employability. Eligible students are high school graduates who are at least 21 years old, who have been laid off for more than 6 months from a full-time position or whose job has become obsolete.
Rios unveiled the county program on the heels of an announcement of a new partnership between Middlesex County College and the federal government. The federal government granted the school $75,000 to provide free counseling for adults with at least 31 college credits who wish to return to school to complete a degree. The counseling services at the college’s new “Center for Adults Returning to Education” will include support with the enrollment process, special workshops and tutoring, and bookstore vouchers.
Rios said the county’s Education Stimulus Program will expand the federal program by offering counseling to all 100 scholarship winners, regardless of how many college credits they have earned.
“The federal program laid the foundation for the counseling assistance, and we can piggyback on that infrastructure to help more students,” Rios said.
“We are very pleased to collaborate with the county to expand our CARE program to those with fewer than 31 credits,” said Dr. Joann La Perla-Morales, president of Middlesex County College. “If they otherwise meet the qualifications, they’ll be able to come to the college and receive services.”
Freeholder Director Christopher D. Rafano, chair of the county’s Administration and Finance Committee, said the scholarship program strengthens the county’s commitment to providing relevant, quality education. “The program is filling a need for our residents who have been seriously impacted by national economic crisis. We are thinking globally, but acting locally and I believe it’s a great way to serve our residents.”
“Through the county’s Education Stimulus Program, we hope to continue our commitment to providing opportunities for all students to attend our college – and help build a solid future.”
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