Chancellor Devinder Malhotra of the Minnesota State higher education system made his way through the state last week, visiting 20 cities in four days, with one thing on his mind: workforce development scholarships.

One of the stops on his very tight schedule was Alexandria Technical and Community College, where on Wednesday, July 10, he talked about the expansion of the scholarship program, looking to promote it and hopefully spark further offers from businesses to match state dollars.

He was joined by others, including ATCC's new president, Michael Seymour, and its vice president of academic and student affairs, Gregg Raisanen, who also said a few words.

The scholarships being offered are substantial, and would amount to roughly half of tuition and fees at the 30 two-year colleges in the system.

During his speech, Malhotra said he wants to raise the level of awareness of workforce shortages because not everybody knows about them.

"Our ability to address workforce shortages determines the prosperity and vibrancy of our state," Malhotra said.

He said colleges play a role in workforce challenges; 75% of additional emerging jobs require post-secondary connections.

"We need more skills and we need them now," said Bernie Omann, director of government relations for Minnesota State. He is also the liaison for the chancellor's office with legislators.

Malhotra said Minnesota is being impacted by increasing diversity in areas such as age, social status, race and more. He doesn't want those in the minority groups to pass on opportunities due to finances.

The state legislature set aside $1 million for the 2018-19 school year to run a pilot project of funding student scholarships.

For ATCC, that meant seven students in information technology, health care and manufacturing programs were awarded scholarships of $2,500. Tuition at the college is about $5,500 per year, so the scholarship given is roughly half of students' costs.

More scholarships on the way

The pilot project went well and the legislature added $8 million, setting aside $2 million for the upcoming school year, and $6 million the following year, enabling the system to greatly expand the number of scholarships it will award. Transportation and early childhood education were added to the areas of study for the new scholarship program.

The college received notice last week that another 18 awards will be given to its students, making for a total of 25 scholarships for this next school year. Prospective students can apply now for scholarships that will be awarded for the following year, and this opportunity will be mentioned during the college's recruitment cycle.

"I am thrilled and delighted about these scholarships," Malhotra said.

He wishes the scholarships would solve all workforce shortages, "but it's just a catalyst of partnerships with business and industry partners," he said. The plan is to get more people and businesses in on this effort.

Ten percent of the total statewide $2 million budget was set apart and held by the legislature. Once the system can get matching funds from businesses, the 10% will be released to colleges to use for more scholarships.

Malhotra said it was a delight for him to see everyone who is contributing to have all their hands on deck. "These scholarships can build a project of coalition," he said.

"Scholarship is in our DNA," Raisanen said. He said the college is trying to leverage and increase private donations for additional scholarship money. "It's a great program. I'm excited about the opportunity."

Gabriel Dalhoff, a second year student of exercise science, received one of the $2,500 awards last year. He is one of eight children from a low-income family, and was unable to work a job as a high school student. He was very appreciative of the scholarship money.

"I'm coming out of my first year without hardly any debt," Dalhoff said.

Malhotra said the program is not only for struggling families, but the majority of students who apply for these scholarships are of low income. The only criteria to apply for the scholarship is to be in a qualifying program at the college and to submit an application. However, the scholarship office takes notice of low-income students.

Raisanen said these scholarships help students to better their life and increase their potential success.

"The goal is to get students across the finish line with certifications to get high-paying jobs," Malhotra said.