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Department of Human Services, Community College of Allegheny County Highlight Program Making Post-Secondary Education More Accessible to Lower Income Students

01/29/2024

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KEYS Program offers financial and social supports making higher education accessible for lower income Pennsylvanians. 

Pittsburgh, PA - Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh today visited with leadership, staff, and students from the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) to highlight their Keystone Education Yields Success (KEYS) Program and its work to make post-secondary education accessible to lower income people and build pathways to success in high-need career paths.

KEYS provides educational and social supports for students who participate in certain public assistance programs to help them succeed in community college and pursue educational and work goals.

“People who live on limited incomes or are affected by poverty face system barriers that can make pursuing education or career training out of reach. Helping people invest in the future makes family-sustaining careers a reality, and DHS’ employment and training programs exist to help people overcome barriers and give them support to pursue their goals,” said Secretary Arkoosh. “By providing both financial supports that help cover costs of essentials like books and technology and social supports like childcare and peer supports, KEYS programs like CCAC’s give students both the tools they need and the confidence to empower them in school and throughout their lives.”

KEYS is a collaborative program between DHS and 14 community colleges across Pennsylvania. The program helps people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) pursue a community college education and succeed in higher education by providing academic and peer support, financial assistance, career counseling, and much more. KEYS is one of several DHS programs that assist those receiving public benefits access the education and training they need to pursue their goals, succeed in the workforce, and find family-sustaining careers.

The KEYS Program helps Pennsylvanians with low incomes and potential barriers to enrolling in college access a community college education in a way that helps overcome the unique challenges students face. The KEYS program pairs TANF and SNAP recipients with a dedicated “student facilitator” to provide supports necessary for students to complete education activities, and graduate with a career-specific, credit-bearing certification or an associate’s degree. Students participating in the KEYS Program may be eligible for supportive services like assistance with school supplies, transportation, and childcare.

The Shapiro Administration is committed to making post-secondary education accessible and affordable for all Pennsylvanians seeking to invest in their future. Under Governor Shapiro’s Blueprint for Higher Education announced last week, Pennsylvanians making up to the median income will pay no more than $1,000 in tuition and fees per semester at state-owned universities and community colleges – further easing barriers for people looking to pursue an education that allows them to reinvest their skills and talents in Pennsylvania.

Since Fall 2021, DHS has leveraged federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars to pilot “Grants to Relieve Inflation and Pandemic Pressures” (GRIPPs), which have helped nearly 1,400 students with tuition payments after financial aid packages were factored in.

The KEYS Program launched in 2005 to increase the number of TANF and SNAP recipients with in-demand degrees in fields such as nursing, accounting, occupational therapy, and business management, and thereby improve access to high quality employment opportunities. Since July 2023, nearly 1,700 students across Pennsylvania have participated in a KEYS program.

Potential students are referred to KEYS by a County Assistance Office caseworker when they qualify for TANF or SNAP and express interest in pursuing education and training available through community colleges or by working with the KEYS coordinator at their community college. If the individual is not already enrolled at the community college, KEYS facilitators can help academically eligible individuals with the enrollment process, applying for financial aid, placement tests, orientation, and course selection.

“We are grateful to have the opportunity to provide needed assistance to our diverse population of students through The KEYS Program. The dedicated CCAC KEYS Student Support Specialists work with our students though every stage of the process to ensure their academic success and our students continue to benefit academically, financially, and often emotionally,” said Karen Jack, KEYS Program Coordinator at CCAC. “Many former CCAC KEYS participants have even reached out to express how the added support positively impacted not only their careers, but their family’s lives and relationships.”

To learn more about or apply for benefits like SNAP and TANF, visit DHS’s website at dhs.pa.gov/COMPASS.

MEDIA CONTACT: Brandon Cwalina - ra-pwdhspressoffice@pa.gov

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