Attending school while unemployed is a good way for a person to become more marketable to future employers. However, when contemplating going back to school, it is important to find out how this decision might affect unemployment benefits. Some states only allow benefit recipients to participate in certain programs; other states require that while you attend school you continue to search for suitable employment, and some states allow a benefit recipient to attend school and defer a job search for a specified length of time.
Type of Schooling
If the benefit recipient lives in a state where school or training is allowed as a substitution for looking for work, check with the state's workforce program to find out what type of training qualifies. In some states, such as Ohio, enrolling in an accredited program is sufficient -- in other states, only certain programs are allowed. However, even in states that allow only certain programs, allowances can occur. For example, it is possible that a laid-off bookkeeper who wants to attend school to get a bachelors degree in accounting could still collect unemployment, since the education would further his current career.
On Campus or Online
Depending on whether the benefit recipient opts to take online courses or attend school on a campus, unemployment may or may not be affected. Many states do not consider online programs to be a barrier to seeking work, and therefore those classes are not in violation of being available for suitable work. Other states allow a person to take either online or on-campus courses for training if it will make the benefit recipient a more desirable job candidate when she finishes the program. Check with your state's workforce development office to determine the types of classes that will not affect unemployment benefit eligibility.
Filing for Benefits
While in school, the benefit recipient can continue to file for benefits. However, some of the questions on the application may change. For example, in Ohio, instead of asking if the recipient was mentally and physically available to work, the questions "Did you attend all required training courses and classes?" and "If so, are you making satisfactory progress?" are asked. If "No" is the answer to either question, an explanation is mandatory, and depending on the response, an eligibility determination will be rendered. It is important to attend classes and make progress in a program, otherwise benefits could be denied.
Some states allow a benefit recipient to attend school for a certain period of time without having to be available for suitable work. Once that time is over, however, the job search has to resume to stay eligible for benefits. The amount of time of the deferment varies from state-to-state, but in Ohio and West Virginia, it is six months. If you are enrolled in a program that is longer than the deferment period, consider taking classes online or during nonwork hours so you do not jeopardize your unemployment benefits.