Jan Emmons was laid off in December of 2008. “I’d worked ten years as office assistant at a trucking company,” remembers the fifty-something Emmons, “and gone through school part-time–first Washtenaw Community College, then Eastern Michigan University.” But when she lost her job, she also lost her source of college funding: “My tuition reimbursement was discontinued.”

That didn’t stop Emmons–though it did radically change her direction. “I was back in school in January of ’09, but I stopped pursuing my business degree at EMU and went back to WCC,” she says. “I went for the medical office assistant certificate to make myself more marketable. I already had an associate’s degree–and I needed to do something quick.”

Emmons wasn’t alone. With 14,000 students, WCC’s enrollment is at an all-time high. “We really boogied up in the last two years,” says Pat Taylor, dean of academic placement, counseling, and support services.

“Nowadays, half our student body is made up of traditional students twenty-one and under, and the other half is made up of what we call ‘workers in transition’–mostly people who’ve been laid off or taken the buyout,” says Dave Wildfong of the community college’s counseling, career planning, and employment services. “Five years ago, that number was closer to a third or a quarter. Most of them are taking advantage of the No Worker Left Behind program.”

Federally funded but administered through Michigan Works, No Worker Left Behind has distributed $4.4 million in tuition aid to 1,558 people in Wash-tenaw County since 2006, with another $900,000 still to go for students who haven’t completed their training. Though the grants are being applied to degrees in everything from administrative assistant certification to weatherization technologies, Wildfong says “a lot have gone for health care because health care jobs are out there.”

Jan Emmons paid for two semesters out of her savings, but Michigan Works covered her final semester at WCC. She graduated in December of 2009–and spent ten months job-hunting. “I applied for jobs every day, eight to twelve hours a day,” she recalls. Finally, this past October, Emmons was hired as a medical office assistant. She found the job “through the website on the college’s central network–I can’t say enough good about it or about how helpful they’ve been.”

“We have seen a marked increase in the number and the types of jobs out there–and not just part-time, fast food jobs but full-time jobs,” says Wildfong. “We’ve seen evidence that new jobs are being created–and that our people are finding them, but it’s taking a long time because the competition is so high.”

Emmons can’t say enough good about her new job. “I really like it here, and I feel comfortable here because they’ve helped show me the way,” she says. “I have my first review in January, and I really hope that this’ll be my job for years going forward.”