Kalish is not alone. Thousands of workers and professionals are flocking back to retrain at more than 1,100 community colleges across the United States as the recession pulverizes the working landscape.
Community colleges offer low-cost, open-access education to adults seeking retraining or transfer to universities, and count more than 11 million students nationwide. The American Association of Community Colleges say provisional figures show enrollments up between 5 percent and 26 percent in the past six months as the economy dived.
Authorities say that the rise is cyclical—the colleges fare better in a recession when people have more time to study and a clear incentive to remake their careers—although a new pattern is emerging as the downturn deepens.
"We are seeing ... a lot of adult learners," said Norma Kent of the AACC. "Maybe from an industry that's on the wane and are looking for some new skills, or a new kind of a program that will allow them to get back into the job market."
From Cars to Wind Energy
Some 4.4 million jobs have vanished since the recession began in December 2007, as the U.S. economy deteriorates at the worst rate in decades.
As part of a $787 billion economic stimulus bill pushed by President Barack Obama last month, $31 billion was set aside to boost tuition tax credits and increase grants for students seeking further education. For many laid-off workers, the time is ripe to decide what training will likely put them in the best shape for the future. For some, it is quite a leap.
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Until he lost his job in February, Robert Kups, 52, worked as a contractor in Detroit, setting up production lines at wobbling car giants General Motors , Ford and Chrysler for more than three decades.
With uncertainty hanging over U.S. automakers, he has pinned his hopes on a new course offering training to install and maintain wind turbines that starts at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, in west Michigan, in October.
"Renewable energy—everything from wind, to geothermal, solar and tides—is going to be a big factor in our energy use over the next generations ... and I want to get in on the ground floor," Kups said.