About 400 Missourians have applied so far for the state’s new Fast Track financial aid program. Fast Track is designed to fill Missouri’s greatest workforce needs by covering the full cost of schooling for adults 25 or older pursuing a certificate, an industry-recognized credential or bachelors in a high demand field.
The grants are being distributed beginning this month to students attending Missouri’s public colleges and universities. Missouri Higher Education and Workforce Development Director Zora Mulligan tells Missourinet funds are still available for people to apply.
“We can serve many more than 400 students. So, we are looking forward to getting lots and lots more students signed up, either for sessions that start kind of in the mid Fall or for sessions that start in January and beyond,” says Mulligan. “One of the neat things about Fast Track is that it covers a lot of programs that are not on a traditional academic calendar.”
The program’s budget this year is $5 million. Some of the industries it centers around are teaching, skilled trades, agriculture, allied health and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) related jobs.
Some of the key requirements include a maximum household income of $80,000 per year if filing taxes jointly or $40,000 annually for a single income household. Those awarded a grant must work in Missouri for three calendar years or pay interest. Fast Track is primarily for adults 25 years or older, but some provisions allow Missourians younger than 25 to get grants if they have been out of school for at least two years.
“Many, many of these are likely to be people who were not seriously considering getting a degree or certificate without this incentive,” she says. “We have a huge population in the state of Missouri – lots of smart and very capable people – but for one reason or another, they either didn’t start college or didn’t finish college when they were younger. The ability to send a message to them that the state of Missouri is willing to invest in their talent and willing to see what they can do if they get one of these degrees or certificates, I think will be an important message that will help people think maybe this is the moment.”
The program was one of Gov. Mike Parson’s priorities outlined in his January State of the State address. He also talked about the importance of Fast Track during a ceremony Friday at the Missouri Department of Agriculture headquarters in Jefferson City.
Mulligan says the program has the power to change lives, help the state and its communities.
“An adult who goes back and gets a degree or certificate that allows them to make 10 or 15,000 dollars a year more, that really has the ability to change the trajectory to change that family’s outcomes,” she says. “It’s also important to take a step back and think about what it means for the state overall in terms of general revenue. Each of those people who’s earning a higher salary is paying more taxes, which goes back into the state general revenue. I think it’s a win from both perspectives.”
Mulligan says the program is also valuable from a community perspective.
“One of the things that you hear when you visit with people around the state is that either there aren’t options for their young people there locally or they’re afraid that if young people leave to go get an education, they won’t come back. Many, many of these programs are offered in rural communities around the state,” she says. “People will have an opportunity to stay in their community, to work in the community and help make sure that it remains vibrant.”
Mulligan’s department is asking for about $19 million next fiscal year to fund the program and include Missouri’s private colleges and universities.
“It’s a substantial investment but it reflects the power of a degree or certificate to the individual who earns it as well as the severity of the workforce needs that our employers around the state face,” she says.
For more information about Fast Track, click here.