NEW PORT RICHEY — Adults seeking certification in auto collision repair at Marchman Technical Education Center can expect to spend 1,400 hours and more than $2,500 to achieve their goals.
That cost can often be prohibitive to potential students, particularly ones who have lost their jobs and are training to re-enter the work force. Pasco County's unemployment rate is hovering around 13 percent, above the state and national rates.
School officials expect to see more people take advantage of auto collision repair and about a dozen other programs when Marchman begins offering federal financial aid in January. Their research indicates that enrollment at technical schools rises about 40 percent when aid is available.
Students can begin applying for Pell Grants to Marchman by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that becomes available on Jan. 1.
"It's the last piece of the puzzle as we begin to transition Marchman into a training center for adults," said Rob Aguis, director of career and technical education for Pasco schools.
Getting full accreditation from the Council on Occupational Education gave Marchman the ability to serve post-secondary students and offer financial aid.
Teens who take Marchman's courses before graduating from high school did not need aid because they pay nothing for their lessons, for which they travel from their home schools to the technical center.
Over time, Aguis and Marchman principal Sheila Bryan determined that those students could be better served if the programs they take are located on high school campuses. That way, students would not lose instructional time while traveling to and from the New Port Richey campus, which sits across the street from Ridgewood High.
Already, the district has moved some programs from Marchman to high schools. More such transfers are expected.
In so doing, Marchman will free up space to serve adults needing technical training and certifications, a niche essentially unfilled in Pasco and neighboring Hernando counties. Bryan has begun conferring with educators in Hernando to establish agreements so students from that county can more easily enroll in Marchman's programs and get financial aid.
"We're trying to set up a process so the flow is seamless," Bryan said.
Marchman also is coordinating with Pasco-Hernando Community College to avoid overlap of programs and to establish connections that lead from certification into related degree programs.
As enrollment rises at Marchman, Bryan said, the school intends to increase its variety of programs and also to adjust its class schedule from the 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. model it has worked within.
"This is forcing us to look at nontraditional scheduling," Aguis said, noting that many adults need early morning or late evening courses to fit with their work and family responsibilities. "We need to meet the needs of the learners. If we're going to train them, we've got to make it as accessible and inviting to them as possible."
Bryan stressed that January is the time to begin applying for the fall semester. The 2011 FAFSA form becomes available online Jan. 1, and the school reopens Jan. 7 for students to inquire about applying to programs.
"They should be starting now to get the fall piece in place," she said. "I truly feel we will be doing a service not only for the adults but also for their families."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.