Missouri faces an economic crisis. Roughly two-thirds of jobs require a postsecondary education but nearly 40% of our adult population possesses the necessary credentials. Not only does this gap harm an individual’s economic mobility, but it harms Missouri’s ability to compete for new businesses, talent, and economic opportunities. State leaders including Governor Mike Parson, Department of Economic Development Director Rob Dixon, Higher Education Commissioner Zora Mulligan, and State Workforce Development Director Mardy Leathers have traveled across Missouri to gather input to develop a strategy for confronting this crisis. With the goal of making Missouri “Best in Midwest,” these leaders developed a clear strategy to move our state forward.
One initiative that emerged from this work is the Missouri Fast Track Workforce Incentive grant program, a program proposed by Senator Gary Romine in Senate Bill 16 and Representative Kathy Swan in House Bill 225. This $22 million grant program would fund postsecondary education and training for “nontraditional students,” particularly adults 25-years-old and above, who are Missouri residents with an income less than $80,000 in high-need disciplines.
The St. Louis Regional Chamber believes Missouri Fast Track Workforce Incentive grant program has the potential to transform our state’s economy and empower our workforce. Considering the shifting state of our economy, we need a skilled workforce made up of resilient, life-long learners; however, we can only create such a workforce by expanding our definition of “student.” Today’s students include adults over the age of 25 who are pursuing education and training part-time. Adult students need flexible higher education programs, greater support from employers, and access to financial aid that supports their education and career goals.
By investing in adult education, the Missouri FastTrack Workforce Incentive grant program creates economic opportunity while meeting the workforce needs of business. By creating more pathways to in-demand occupations, the state is addressing one of the greatest pain points employers face today: filling thousands of jobs that go unfilled in a tight labor market.
The Regional Chamber also supports investment in adults as a critical pathway to our regional workforce goals. In 2018, the Regional Chamber launched Gateway to Degrees, a program designed to ensure more adults in our region complete postsecondary education. In St. Louis alone, we have about 400,000 adults over the age of 25 who have some college education but never finished their degree. Gateway to Degrees is currently supporting 60 clients, providing them free, neutral college advising services so they can choose the best program that aligns to their personal and professional goals. Gateway to Degrees is also working with partners in business and higher education to align support for adult learners in our community.
The Missouri Fast-Track Workforce Incentive grant program will help the St. Louis region and the state of Missouri advance its shared goals of increasing adult degree attainment. The St. Louis Regional Chamber stands with Governor Parson and state leaders seeking to make the Missouri Fast-Track Workforce Incentive grant program a reality to meet our state’s talent needs of today and tomorrow.