LISLE, Ill. (CBS) — In these days of high unemployment, a suburban university is giving the jobless a second chance.
CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports on the college that’s giving free tuition to the long-term unemployed.
Among the bright faces rushing through the Benedictine University campus, you’ll find a few new ones more seasoned than the rest.
“Furthering my education was completely out of the question at this point in time. With my wife and I both being out of work, there was no way that that was going to occur,” said Ben Horbacz, of Naperville.
Horbacz is 63, a veteran of the printing industry. He’s been looking for a job for two years.
Cynthia Prewitt’s job in pharmaceutical IT was shipped overseas and the 48-year-old has been unemployed since 2008.
“I got to the point, to the plateau; and it’s like you have the rug just snatched out, that’s it, you’re starting all over from peg one,” Prewitt said.
But starting over for these students won’t cost them a cent. Benedictine University is offering free tuition for undergraduate students over 25 who have been unemployed for at least 18 months.
Benedictine University President William Carroll said, “We always have classes going. Does it really hurt to add 2 or three more to a class? No.”
Carroll said the school will ask the students to apply for state and federal financial aid and Benedictine will make up the difference.
“The people who have worked, who have paid taxes, have contributed to our well being. Now some of these people are down and out. Who’s stepping in to help them?” Carroll said. “We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do. … It’s time for us to give back to a country and a taxpayer who’s done so wonderfully for us.”
It’s estimated Benedictine will spend over $1 million to educate the program’s first 40 students, who began classes last week.
“We’ve been given much and to those who much has been given, much is expected,” Carroll said.
Prewitt said she’s never seen the job climate as bad as it is right now.
“When you go on an interview and there’s only two positions available and there’s 25 people out in the lobby, you know, you’re praying, of course,” she said. “But then there’s also that glimmer of hope that maybe you are the one that they’re looking for.”
Now the single mother of three is prepared to do homework next to the teenagers she’s been working hard to support, happy for the opportunity and not intimated by the younger students around her.
“It keeps me young, so when I hang out with them … it makes me smarter; keeps me, you know, fresh; keeps me at my peak,” Prewitt said.
Standard tuition at Benedictine is more than $20,000 a year. The free tuition program is not completely new for the university. It has educated more than 600 firefighters, police officers and first responders through a similar program since 2001.