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Ozarks Technical Community College announced on Jan. 27 that its number of students receiving a state grant designed to equip adults with education and skills in fields of high demand more than doubled since the last school year.
Between the spring and fall of 2022, students receiving the state-funded Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant grew from 51 to 111 at OTC.
“Fast Track is an excellent opportunity for students who otherwise could not afford college,” Dr. Hal Higdon, the chancellor of OTC, said in a press release. “As employers seek a skilled workforce, Fast Track is a tool they can use to educate new hires and provide training opportunities for their current employees.”
Changes to Fast Track, marketing have been key to program’s growth at OTC
The Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant was established in 2019 as a forgivable loan but, in 2022, it became a grant and expanded to be available for students seeking short-term training programs and apprenticeships.
Administered by the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development (DHEWD), its purpose is to expand higher education opportunities for non-traditional students, both in the form of certificates and degrees.
Some of the eligibility requirements include:
- Be either 25 years of age or older, or
- Not have been enrolled in an educational program for the past two years, or
- Not have been enrolled in a postsecondary program for the past two years unless related to the current apprenticeship
- Make less than $40,000 per year as an individual
While it is available in public and private institutions across the state, OTC has stood out in its Fast Track enrollment. During the 2021-22 school year, they had more Fast Track students than any community college and the most of any public college in the state, according to Mark Miller, the chief media relations officer at OTC.
Miller attributed much of their success in getting students enrolled with Fast Track grants to their marketing.
“We have tried really hard to get people into Fast Track,” Miller said in an interview with the Daily Citizen. “We did it in 2019 when it first rolled out, and we’ve continued to do it and done it more heavily since it has changed over to a no strings attached grant.”
Despite multifaceted benefits, Fast Track still underutilized
In addition to being beneficial for students, Fast Track can help current employers and the workforce at large.
“When budgets get tight, one of the first things that [businesses] cut from their budget is the tuition assistance for their employees,” said Aaron Light, the dean of Health Sciences at OTC. “This offers up an opportunity for employers to use Fast Track to send people back to school to get trained up in particular areas, whether it be business, tech ed or health care.”
Light also pointed out that the grant offers students who may have opted to simply join the workforce over furthering their education and paying tuition an opportunity to return to school at no cost.
“Fast Track can eliminate the need for [a loan], so that’s a huge benefit,” Miller said. “But as far as the workforce goes…It’s funneling [students] into these high-demand areas that are necessary for the workforce.”
Of the 111 students at OTC receiving Fast Track grants at OTC, 60 of them are enrolled in Health Sciences programs and 30 in technical education, according to Miller. OTC offers over 80 different Fast Track eligible programs.
Despite the over 100 percent increase in enrolled students receiving Fast Track grants, Miller still thinks there is plenty of room to grow.
“We think it’s underutilized,” Miller said. “There are just so many more people who are eligible…But there are some barriers because if you already have a family and things like that. Yes, free tuition is fantastic, but you’ve got child care and you’re taking care of older parents or you can’t afford to stop working completely. And we try to work with those students.”
Their room for growth could be supplemented by a potential $800,000 influx into the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant from the state budget, which was proposed by Governor Mike Parson in his State of the State address on Jan. 18.