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Reprinted from UKNOW

Two faculty members in the University of Kentucky’s Martin School of Public Policy and Administration have received a $517,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation to study the effectiveness of workforce-aligned scholarship programs.  

The study will have potential national implications in helping state and federal policymakers design programs to meet present and future workforce requirements and drive economic growth.

Workforce-driven scholarships provide financial aid for students who pursue fields of study that align with state or local labor market needs. Rajeev Darolia, the Wendell H. Ford Professor of Public Policy and co-investigator on the project said, “The aim of many of these programs is to create career pathways to high-wage and high-demand occupations and to increase the supply of workers who can fill local industry needs. However, we have limited evidence on the benefits and costs of such programs to students and to states.”  

In addition, co-investigator and professor Ron Zimmer, director of the Martin School, noted that “we know little about the geographic implications of such policies. Theoretically, encouraging these programs could help rural areas. However, there is a question of whether newly trained rural workers migrate to areas where jobs might be able to offer higher wages. As part of our study, we will examine migration patterns to see if these programs could potentially lead to workers moving from rural to urban areas.”  

An example of a workforce-aligned program here in Kentucky is the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship program, a collaborative effort between the Kentucky Cabinet for Education and Workforce Development, public and private universities and the Kentucky Community and Technical Colleges.  It provides tuition assistance for Kentucky students to apply toward career certifications and associate degrees in fields of study expected to lead to well-paying jobs. 

“Strengthening today’s workforce and preparing for the workforce needs of the coming decade are priority issues across states and nationally. Policymakers, as well as business and industry leaders, families and students, share a common objective: filling jobs with skilled, educated workers and developing the workforce needed for the near future,” described the Southern Regional Education Board.

This research builds off ongoing collaborations between the Martin School and state agencies, with Martin School faculty conducting applied research of consequence aimed at improving welfare in Kentucky and beyond.