The Governor’s Next Level Jobs Workforce Ready Grant program received a shot in the arm during the legislative session that ended in late April.
The Workforce Ready Grant (WRG) program provides Hoosiers who have a high school diploma or its equivalent – but no college degree – with the opportunity to receive up to two years of free college training in high-wage, high-demand middle-skills occupations.
Since its inception in 2017, 15,280 have enrolled in a Workforce Ready Grant-eligible program, and 5,760 have completed training. That’s a fraction of the 1.57 million adults who are eligible.
The new state budget that takes effect July 1 boosts WRG funding from $2 million to $4 million annually. Lawmakers also set aside $750,000 to underwrite a new advertising, outreach, and digital marketing campaign to help drive enrollment. Additional changes enacted in the 2019 legislative session should give participants more choices for what to study and where.
House Enrolled Act 1002-2019 allows all public and private institutions to participate as credit-bearing training providers upon receiving approval from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. Providers are currently limited to Ivy Tech Community College and Vincennes University.
Moreover, HEA 1002-2019 directs the Indiana Commission for Higher Education to consider expanding the grant program to a sixth occupational area: public safety. Funding is currently restricted to job training in advanced manufacturing, construction, health sciences, logistics, and information technology services.
The Indiana Commission for Higher Education indicates that recruitment targets for the coming year include the 35,600 adults who submitted information to the NextLevelJobs.org online portal but have not enrolled and the estimated 36,000 high school students pursuing a graduation pathway that leads to less than a two-year or four-year degree.
A majority of job openings in Indiana between 2014 and 2024 are expected to be in the middle-skills occupations, according to the National Skills Coalition.
States have enacted 15 new free college programs in the past five years, but Indiana’s is the only one focused primarily on certificate-level attainment, according to The Century Foundation.