ELYSBURG - Local businesses can hire college students and have up to 30 percent of their wages paid for by the state through the Pa. State Work-Study Program.

The relationship could help bring those students back to the region as educated and experienced workers who can bolster the local work force.

That was the message delivered Tuesday by Marla Kane, Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) higher education access partner for the north central region, to the Brush Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce at its membership luncheon, held this month at Original Italian Pizza.

Kane, of Coal Township, said the work-study program was expanded by PHEAA to include employers, no longer limiting it to jobs on campus.

Businesses hire a student who is studying in a related field and treat them as a regular employee in every way, she said, with pay starting at minimum wage and not exceeding $10 per hour. The student can't replace a current employee.

There are summer, academic year and spring terms for the work-study program, and students are eligible for work-study as long as they remain grant eligible.

Kane said the match from PHEAA can climb to 40 percent for nonprofit organizations.

Participating students must be recipients of college grant funding through the state, but even if they qualify for as little as $200 per year, they can apply for work-study, Kane said.

Among the participants is Milton YMCA, which has a receptionist and gymnastic and child care assistants enrolled. Family Planning in Shamokin is looking for a nutrition assistant and the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way is advertising for a public relations assistant through the work-study website.

Kane said the region has limited job opportunities for its young people, so training them at local businesses can help improve the work force.

More information is available at pheaa.org/employer or by calling 800-443-0646.

Kane also told chamber members about PHEAA's PA-TIP (Targeted Industry Program), which launched July 1. It provides needs-based awards to students at approved schools who are pursuing study in energy, advanced materials and diversified manufacturing and agriculture and production fields, for example. PHEAA has applied $5 million of its own funding, without any taxpayer support, toward the program.

PA-TIP was developed in part because there were many Pennsylvania students who qualified for grants based on income, but the schools or programs they had chosen didn't fit typical PHEAA eligibility.

PA-TIP targets courses of study that are at least 10 weeks but less than two academic years in length. Eligible students can receive a maximum award of either 75 percent of the allowable program costs or the maximum state grant award ($4,120), per award year.

She said the approved fields of study are those where there is often a lack of adequately trained workers, particularly as work force needs tend to take more students toward schooling that doesn't involve a traditional four-year college.

Institutions in the region that are involved include Penn College, Williamsport, Harrisburg Area Community College, Luzerne County Community College (the home campus in Nanticoke only) and Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science & Technology near Bellefonte. PHEAA is working with Triangle Tech, which has a Sunbury campus, on eligibility,.

PA-TIP applications can be found at pheaa.org/PA-TIP.

Chamber director Sandy Winhofer said she often hears from local businesses about the lack of properly trained employees. She noted the chamber arranges students to job-shadow at local businesses, and encouraged managers and owners to "open your doors" to those who could be future employees.

Blight work praised

Tuesday's lunch was sponsored by the Housing Authority of Northumberland County. Winhofer thanked Ed Christiano, authority executive director and a chamber board member, for his efforts in forming the county blight task force. The group's goal is to pool resources and funding while encouraging municipalities to pass tougher ordinances in the fight against blight, which Winhofer said is a key element in economic development.