DES MOINES — Sarah Keehn, a Franklin County sheep farmer and mother of six, says a state-funded scholarship program is enabling her to pursue a health care career by taking online community college classes while she and her husband juggle their family responsibilities.
“This really opens a door for me,” Keehn told a news conference Tuesday where Gov. Kim Reynolds touted the state’s Future Ready Iowa Last-Dollar Scholarship that provided more than 5,800 students with over $6.6 million in awards for this year’s fall semester.
“It allows me to be able to attend school online and still be a mom,” said Keehn, a student at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City, studying to become a certified medical assistant.
Reynolds said over half of the $13 million state allotment for this fiscal year is helping pave the way for more Iowans to acquire the education and training needed for good-paying, high-demand jobs.
“These initial numbers show the program is on track to be a huge success,” Reynolds said.
The news conference, held at the Iowa College Aid headquarters, focused on scholarships that cover tuition and qualified fees for postsecondary credentials up to two-year degrees after an eligible student has applied for other non-repayable state and federal aid. Preliminary estimates put the average award for fall 2019 at $1,132, according to the governor’s office.
“This scholarship is a critical tool for growing incomes, closing the skills gap and helping meet the needs of a competitive economy,” the governor added. “When Iowans find good-paying jobs in cutting-edge careers, it can be life-changing for them and their families. The Last-Dollar Scholarship is connecting more Iowans to rewarding career opportunities, which will help employers hire the skilled workers they need to grow.”
The Last-Dollar Scholarship focuses on meeting business and industry workforce needs in four key areas: health care and biosciences; information technology; advanced manufacturing production, installation and maintenance; and construction and engineering.
Drake Noble, a student enrolled in an information technology program at Des Moines Area Community College, said he worried about the cost of college when he graduated from Des Moines East High School but “felt very relieved” when he qualified as a state scholarship recipient.
“A big weight was off my shoulders knowing that I wasn’t going to be drowning in debt after college and I’m very grateful for that,” said Noble, who has been able to work while taking college courses.
Students awarded the scholarship attend all 15 of Iowa’s community colleges as well as Mercy College of Health Sciences and St. Luke’s College.
Reynolds said she expected demand for the scholarships would exceed the $13 million state appropriations, and she expects to request more funding in the budget plan she submits to lawmakers in January. She said she did not have a figure she expected to propose yet since she is early in the process of crafting a two-year state spending plan.
However, she said the Last-Dollar Scholarship program is “bridging classrooms to career by making postsecondary education affordable for Iowans who are pursuing high-demand jobs” at a time when the state faces a critical shortage of skilled workers for jobs in a “digital skills-based and very disruptive economy.”
Reynolds said Iowa has a “very ambitious goal to have 70 percent of Iowans in the workforce having education or training beyond high school by the year 2025,” and now stands at 58 percent at that threshold.
“We are at a better place than a lot of the other states across the country, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Reynolds said. “The first state to get this figured out is going to be the state where business and industry are going to want to locate and expand, and we’re at a good place to say we’ve got that.”
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