Maintain State Workforce Development Grant

An effort to expand a grant created to support a skilled workforce throughout Missouri has broad support among higher education and economic development groups.

The Senate Progress and Development Committee on Wednesday took public testimony on a bill that would make changes to the Fast Track Workforce Incentive grant and remove its expiration, currently set for August 28 of this year.

Nearly a dozen people testified publicly, all in favor of the bill.

The Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant, which was launched in 2019 and is administered by the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development, is a state financial assistance program for adults pursuing an industry certificate, diploma or credential that falls within a high-need skill area. .

To be eligible, recipients cannot have completed a bachelor’s degree, must be at least 25 years old or have not enrolled in school within the last two years, and cannot earn more than 40,000 $ when filing taxes individually or $80,000 when filing taxes jointly.

SB 672, sponsored by Sen. Lincoln Hough, a Greene County Republican, would eliminate the grant expiration and add new language regarding qualifying apprenticeships, which are apprenticeship programs approved by the US Department of Labor. ‘State.

Kara Corches, vice president of government affairs for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the organization supports the bill and the Fast Track program in general because workforce development is a priority in the business world.

“We haven’t had a huge population boom in Missouri, so we need to make the most of all available Missourians, and Fast Track is helping us do that,” Corches said.

She said legislative support for apprenticeships is essential because they are a key way to develop the state’s workforce, as students often earn a salary as they develop new skills.

The grant, which covers all tuition and remaining fees not covered by other state and federal student financial aid awards, totaled more than $1.2 million for the 2020 school year -21.

Jessica Duren, director of communications at MDHEWD, said 310 students received scholarships last year and the average scholarship amount was $4,107.

The most popular programs, Duren said, were related to health, computer science, business and accounting.

Hough said he was impressed with what the grant program has accomplished since its launch three years ago and wanted to build on it to help address the shortage of skilled workers in Missouri.

Higher Education Commissioner Zora Mulligan testified in support of the bill and spoke about the program’s popularity among women entering the skilled workforce and the need to attract more men.

“Fast Track includes construction and other programs that have historically been associated with trades,” Mulligan said. “As the program continues to live and grow, it’s really our goal to increase reach that will attract more men to the program, because we think it’s important.”

Mulligan said Hough’s legislation will expand participation in apprenticeship programs by allowing the grant to cover some of the costs beyond instruction, such as the cost of the toolbox, boots or student uniform.

Hough’s legislation would also require the Higher Education Coordinating Council to annually review the list of eligible programs and apprenticeship trades to determine if more could be added.

Representatives from Western Governors University-Missouri, University of Central Missouri, Missouri Community College Association, Council on Public Higher Education, Missouri Ambulance Association, Cox College and Lake Ozark Chamber of Commerce also pronounced in favor of the legislation.

Bill Gamble, representing Independent Colleges and Universities in Missouri, also spoke in favor of the bill, but said he wanted more discussion about the grant’s residency requirement.

Grant recipients are required to maintain Missouri residency and work in the state for three years after graduation to prevent the grant from becoming an interest-bearing loan.

Gamble said the requirement has the potential to deter applicants and affects job opportunities after graduation, particularly if companies ask employees to leave the state.

“There are some of these aspects that give a participant pause – do I really want to do this or not,” Gamble said. “And do we affect an opportunity for them to go to another job?”

Sen. Jill Schupp, Democrat of St. Louis and chair of the Senate Progress and Development Committee, said she plans to vote on the Fast Track grant changes as a committee next week.

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