Sunday, November 27, 2022

Fast Forward program grows in popularity, but lacks in state funding to keep afloat

Welding is just one of the many skills you can get a certification in with this program. (HNNDaily Photo/courtesy of Pixabay photos)
Welding is just one of the many skills you can get a certification in with this program. (HNNDaily Photo/courtesy of Pixabay)

HAMPTON — Thomas Nelson Community College’s Fast Forward program, part of its Workforce Development Department, is helping students get their certifications in trade-skilled jobs.

Because of the growing demand for a more skilled workforce in Virginia, TNCC among the other 23 constituent community colleges has implemented a scholarship program to help students gain those necessary credentials.

The purpose of the Workforce Development Department and the Fast Forward program is to provide customized training that employers need to have a reliable, skilled workforce at their companies.

Eddie Swain, director of professional, credential and continuing education at TNCC, said the Fast Forward program launched in July 2016.

It is state-funded on a bi-annual basis with a budget of $9.5 million for fiscal year 2019 for the whole state, Swain said.

The funding for the program is falling short of the community college’s needs, he said.

Here’s how the scholarship program works

Swain said Fast Forward works like a scholarship program, giving people the opportunity to gain credentials in varying fields without shelling out a lot of money.

Swain said if you are a resident of the state and you qualify for the program based on income-eligibility, you can apply for scholarship money to help pay for the program.

The way the program works is you are required to pay one-third of the total cost of the class up-front, the state then pays the second-third of the class when you pass it and if the credential is awarded by the third party credentialing service such as the DMV, the state will pay the last third.

If you are eligible for Fast Forward, there is a separate pool of money that will pay for 90 percent of that first one-third, Swain said.

Students in the program sign a promissory note saying they will pay the second-third of the class if they fail.

Why are these programs important?

Programs like these give potential employees access to the skills they need to be successful in the job market.

So far, Virginia’s community college system is the only one of its kind to have a program like this, Swain said.

The program is first-come first-served for funding at the moment.

While the program itself has been growing in popularity, a major roadblock the colleges are facing is running out of that funding needed to keep offering classes.

In the first year of the program – fiscal year 2017 – 250 students participated, taking 274 classes (students can take more than one class at a time), Swain said.

The program ran out of money by Thanksgiving that fiscal year.

For fiscal year 2018, 251 people participated, taking 317 classes.

Even though the 2017 and 2018 enrolled numbers aren’t drastically different, there were more enrollees in the first portion of 2018 than 2017.

The funding set aside for the first quarter did run out before the next quarter began so TNCC was unable to fund more students.

Swain hopes that as the program gains popularity the state will be able to allocate more funding.

Until then, the community colleges in the state are dividing the funds up into three quarters: 40 percent are set for July 1 – Oct. 31; 40 percent for Nov. 1 – April 30, and the last 20 percent for May 1 – June 30.

To learn about the Fast Forward program and find out what kinds of classes they offer, click here.

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