Missouri is accepting applications for its Fast Track financial aid program. Fast Track is designed to help adults 25 years or older, or individuals under 25 who have not been enrolled in education in at least two years. The grants are awarded to eligible Missourians working toward a certificate, degree or industry-recognized credential for a job in high demand.
Some of the industries in greatest need include teaching, skilled trades, agriculture, allied health and computer science jobs. LeRoy Wade, deputy commissioner of operations for the state Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development, tells Missourinet the top three programs students applied for the grant money last year were in allied health, teacher education and computer science.
“The number one program area by far is allied health and that wasn’t really a surprise before the pandemic but it’s certainly not one as we are in the middle of the pandemic,” he says. “At some point, as many as 50% of the applicants were coming in for allied health programs. And those are things like medical assisting, nurses, respiratory therapists.”
Fast Track launched last year as part of one of Gov. Mike Parson’s top priorities. In the program’s first year, nearly 200 students were helped with the average award amounting to $2,189.
Wade says the grants cover a broader list of program areas this year.
“We expanded the area in what I would call Public Safety. So we added programs for corrections officers. We added firefighters and things like that,” says Wade. “In teacher education, we expanded the while teacher education in some areas was available for, now we have additional ones.”
Fast Track was expanded this year to include not only nonprofit public colleges and universities but also private ones.
“It probably a little more than doubled the number of institutions,” says Wade. “There are about 40 or 45 private nonprofit institutions that participate in this program now. So, it’s a pretty substantial expansion. I think that’s really going to make a difference in terms of the reach of the program by being able to include them.”
Applicants must come from a maximum household income of $80,000 per year if filing taxes jointly or $40,000 annually for a single income household. After completing a program, those awarded a grant must work in Missouri for three calendar years or it turns into a loan with interest.
Missouri’s goal is to have 60% of working-age adults have a high-quality certificate or degree by 2025. So where is the state in meeting that goal?
“We’re in the range of somewhere between 53% and 55% right now,” says Wade. “We’re doing well. That’s up quite a bit when we started this and set this goal almost a decade ago now. We were in the mid to upper 30s. So, we’ve made quite a bit of progress over the last ten years.”
He attributes several initiatives within the department for making progress, including ways to retain students and additional supports to keep students on a path forward academically and financially.
“It looked pretty daunting when we started but we think we are maybe in striking distance of actually being able to reach that goal by 2025,” he says.
Students can access the application from the homepage of journeytocollege.mo.gov
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