Missouri Governor Mike Parson, along with several other lawmakers and public officials, visited Signature Packaging and Paper in Jackson today as part of a statewide tour to promote a new piece of legislation regarding workforce development.
Fast Track, a financial aid program, would increase financial access to working-age adults to receive higher education. According to the Missouri Department of Higher Education (MDHE), creating this program would require a statutory change.
MDHE commissioner, Zora Mulligan said Fast Track would establish a plan similar to that of a current scholarship program called A+, which provides free community college to high school students who demonstrate good grades and character. But Fast Track would only be available to those 25 years and older.
“The working title for Fast Track was actually ‘A++,’ because it has the potential to influence the shape of our economy as profoundly as A+ has,” said Mulligan.
Representative Kathy Swan, a sponsor of the House Bill, said while Missouri ranks among the top ten states for high school graduation rates, it still lags behind in post-secondary education and credential attainment. Existing grant scholarship programs in Missouri target high-schoolers and high school graduates.
“Currently, we have 2.6 million adults with no post-secondary education in the state, and approximately 710,000 residents have some college, but no degree,” said Swan.
And as a result, Missouri has also fallen behind in economic performance. However, she said, the Fast Track Workforce Incentive grant can quickly get them ‘back on the right track’.
“There are no state financial aid programs like Fast Track. It’s a needs-based grant program for tuition and fees for adults to address specific workforce needs,” said Swan. “Change is needed to remove barriers and obstacles, build on our strengths and opportunities, and develop our workforce to be competitive.”
Applicants for Fast Track must be 25 or older at the time of enrollment, and cannot be previously enrolled in an academic program for 2 years. They would also have to be enrolled, or plan to enroll, part-time for an undergraduate program of study. Adjusted gross income of the applicant would be based upon that of a FAFSA form: $40,000 as an individual filer, and $80,000 as a joint filer.
Eligible programs of study for the program would be a certificate, an industry-recognized credential, an associate-level degree, or a baccalaureate degree.
At the event, Gov. Parson said it’s a ‘simple reality’ that post-secondary education is required for many jobs in the 21st century, and more than a high school education is required to move up in today’s society.
“We can’t do things like we did when I was a kid - that labor-strong mentality,” said Parson. “Now you have to be more tech-saavy; you have to have more skills.”
He also noted that it’s a top legislative priority to begin meeting workforce needs.
“There’s very many times that we as a legislature have an opportunity to sign a piece of legislation and put something into effect that will affect tens of thousands of Missourians.”
Despite these workforce development setbacks, Gov. Parson noted that the state’s economy remains strong. He referred to a recent job report, which indicates that Missouri continues to hover just above 3% unemployment, and 23,000 jobs were added in 2018.