JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A plan to launch a grant program for adults seeking to further their education in high demand jobs received bipartisan support for a House committee.

On Monday, the workforce development committee heard a measure sponsored by Rep. Kathy Swan, who is also the committee chair, to develop the Fast-Track Workforce Incentive Grant.  

Gov. Parson appears at Workforce hearing.

The scholarship program was first unveiled by Gov. Mike Parson during his State of the State speech and subsequent budget recommendation less than two weeks ago. In fact, Parson made a rare, albeit brief, appearance at Monday’s public hearing on the bill.

“This is intended to serve those who have fallen through the cracks… We do not have anything in this state that reaches this specific group,” said Swan.

The measure would establish the Fast-Track Workforce Incentive Grant, which is specifically aimed at adults. To qualify for the scholarship, an individual must: be 25-years-old or older, be a Missouri resident, have an adjusted gross income of less than $80,000, and not be enrolled in an education program for the prior two academic years.

Those applying for the grant must fill out a FAFSA application and submit “the Missouri individual income tax returns of the applicant, the applicant’s spouse, and the applicant’s parents…” Applicants must be planning on enrolling, at least part-time, in an undergraduate school in an “eligible program of study.”

Swan noted that roughly 16,000 would meet the requirements.

The grants will be awarded in an amount equal to the actual tuition and general fees charged to an eligible student, after all federal nonloan aid, state student aid, and any other governmental student financial aid is applied.

Parson’s budget recommendation includes $22 million for the Fast-Track Workforce Incentive Grant program. He has made workforce development a priority throughout his tenure as governor.

“This is music to my ears. I’ve lost four key employees to retirement. I have not been able to replace them,” said Rep. Craig Fishel.

“I really like this bill,” said Rep. Doug Beck.

A representative from Western Governors University Missouri highlighted the need for the legislation. She testified that nationwide, 66 percent of jobs require a post-second degree or certification and only 42 percent of the population holds the qualifications creating a gap of 38.5 million people.

While no one spoke against the bill, some on the committee advised caution moving forward, others wanted more information, and some wanted to know what the accountability mechanisms would look like.

A representative from the Missouri State Technological College raised the concern that setting the age at 25 could create an unintentional gap. He pointed out that only 6 percent of current college students would qualify while if bumping the age down to 20-years-old would encompass 40 percent of students.

The committee did not vote on the bill Tuesday.

Alisha Shurr is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University. Contact Alisha at alisha@themissouritimes.com.