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State grants, partnerships focus on workforce needs in several states

March 30, 2017

Noting a growing need for additional education to meet workforce needs, several states have announced programs focusing on education and workforce needs, channeling state funding to grants that will focus on aligning learning opportunities with business and industry needs, or creating new initiatives in the private sector. Reaching a higher educational attainment among a greater percentage of the workforce by 2025 is also a goal set by several of the states. Among the initiatives undertaken are free tuition options in Arkansas through the ARFuture grant, Nevada STEM Workforce Challenge Grants, a grant program in Utah focused on education and industry, and a private sector effort in New Hampshire.

In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the ARFuture grant bill early this month, providing two years of tuition and fees at an Arkansas community or technical college to any state student who enrolls in a high-demand field of study, such as computer science or welding, or in a STEM field. The new grant will be funded by repurposing $8.2 million in general revenue funds from the state’s Workforce Improvement Grant (WIG), a needs-based grant for adult students 24 years old or older, and the Arkansas Higher Education Opportunities Grant, or Go! grant, which was based on financial need to help low-income students complete their college degree. The governor’s office reported that the GO grant had a 77 percent non-completion rate. The new program attempts to build student accountability into its design. Recipients are required to meet monthly with a program mentor and perform at least 15 hours of community service each semester that they receive the grant. After graduation, the student must work full-time in Arkansas for a minimum of three years. Failure to meet the commitments of the program will result in the grant converting to a loan for repayment to the state. The ARFuture grant will be available for the 2017-2018 school year and students are eligible to receive the grant for five academic semesters.

STEM industries in Nevada are the focus of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $1 million in grants from the Office of Science, Innovation and Technology (OSIT) for STEM Workforce Challenge Grants. Noting that the demand for skilled workers, particularly those in advanced manufacturing, IT, cyber security, clean energy and healthcare, is growing faster than non-STEM industries, the grants are targeted to Sandoval’s goal of having 60 percent of 25-to-34-year-olds having some form of postsecondary degree or credential by 2025. The grants seek to create lasting partnerships between Nevada’s STEM industries and workforce training providers that focus on certificate and degree programs of two years or less.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced a $2.1 million grant program this week that is intended to provide a collaborative effort between industry and education and help meet the governor’s goal of filling 40,000 high-skill, high-paying jobs in Utah over the next four years. Talent Ready Utah will incorporate the grant program formerly known as the Utah Cluster Acceleration program, and will support business efforts in education activities like job shadows, internships, and industry tours. It will also promote programs for unemployed and underemployed adults seeking training and certification in high-demand occupations. Money for the grant program comes from the Department of Workforce Services’ job growth fund, which is dedicated by the legislature for the purpose of investing back into the workforce. 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced an expansion of the state’s Career Connections network, working with 19 community colleges to provide greater access for residents to “employer-valued credentials and degrees, fruitful training networks and high-quality career assistance,” the governor said in a prepared release. Christie set a goal to increase the percentage of New Jersey residents who have earned employer-valued certificates and college degrees to at least 65 percent by 2025. It expands the current job services program from its current providers, like the one-stop career centers, libraries, community and faith based organizations, and some community colleges to all 19 community colleges. Additional staff at the community colleges will receive training to provide job search assistance services. The governor’s release did not announce any additional state funding for the program.

In New Hampshire a similar effort is underway within the private sector with a new partnership announced late last year between businesses, schools and local organizations. The Business and Industry Association is working with the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and local schools to develop “career pathways.” The program “Workforce Accelerator 2025” also sets the goal of 65 percent of adults in that state having degrees or high-value credentials for the workforce. The BIA added a new position, director of workforce development, to oversee the accelerator, with initial funding for the initiative coming from the BIA, the foundation and Fidelity Investments. The accelerator will build on the work of the Charitable Foundation’s New Hampshire Tomorrow initiative, and the efforts of the New Hampshire Department of EducationUniversity System of New HampshireCommunity College System of New HampshireNew Hampshire Coalition for Business and Education and other partners who have adopted the goal of 65 percent of New Hampshire adults having degrees and high-value credentials by 2025.

Arkansas, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Utahhigher ed, workforce