SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – As lawmakers are now back in Jefferson City, Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC) hopes this means something will be done about the workforce shortage. OTC says it wants lawmakers to renew the Fast Track program. Chancellor Dr. Hal Higdon says the workforce incentive grant helps adult Missourians continue their education.
“I do not think the state has done a really good job of promoting it,” Dr. Higdon said. “So I’m hoping that as we get it cleaned up, there will be more ability to promote it. We don’t really have people calling us saying, ‘Oh I heard about the Fast Track program.’ They’re coming in and saying, ‘How can I pay for school?’ And we say, ‘Here’s how to do it.’
Dr. Higdon says the Fast Track program is meant to help Missourians who are 25 and older and don’t have a college degree. Students who are accepted receive a scholarship to continue their education in a popular field.
In 2021, almost half of the money spent on Fast Track was spent at OTC.
“Unfortunately because of changes made to the program by well-meaning legislators, it has made the program not as effective as it could be,” Dr. Higdon said. “So we’re very excited that Senator Hough is now proposing a bill that will fix those changes, and move it back to what the program intended, which was a grant program.”
Dr. Higdon says the program started as a “clean” grant, but then lawmakers added a loan to it. You would have to pay a loan if you didn’t stay and work in Missouri for at least three years after completing the program.
Senator Lincoln Hough is proposing a bill to renew the program but remove the loan. Dr. Higdon says employers everywhere should express their support.
“If I’m a manufacturer, if I’m a healthcare provider or anyone who hires technical people, I would be calling my legislators today and say, ‘Fix this,” Dr. Higdon said. “Support Senator Hough’s bill. Let’s get our people trained.”
Dr. Higdon says if Senator Hough’s bill is approved, it would set up many adult Missourians for success, and a high-paying job.
“Any of these programs, you’re making $20, $25, $30 and more an hour,” Dr. Higdon said. “It’s a big opportunity for people who are under-employed to come in and get training and nights, weekends, online, in-person. We have a full repertoire of things we can do. We just need to get this legislation fixed.”
During the labor shortage, Dr. Higdon says OTC is having trouble getting some students to complete the program. Some companies are wanting to hire students before they pass.