New state grants for students pursuing degrees in “high-need careers”

Eligible career paths include health care, business, STEM and education.

Olivia Stevens

New Minnesota Future Together grants will cover tuition for students enrolling in high-need career programs at any tribal college or public institution in Minnesota starting in 2022.

Grants will be awarded to first-year undergraduate students automatically after they submit their financial aid documents, said Keith Hovis, Director of Communications for the Office of Higher Education (OHE). Awards will range from $100 to $15,400 and affect approximately 20,000 students.

Program eligibility

Governor Walz’s federal American Rescue Plan funds are covering the cost of the $35 million program, according to the OHE’s description of the program.

The program is expected to end in 2024, but the amount of time the funds are available will depend on the number of students who qualify for the grants.

Health care, STEM, business, industry and technology, education and public service are all considered “high-need areas,” according to the OHE.

In addition to standard eligibility requirements for OHE programs, specific Minnesota Future Together grants’ eligibility requirements depend on whether students have a Family Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) reported on FAFSA or State Aid Application of less than $100,000 or $50,000.

If students’ AGI is between $50,000 and $100,000, they must have worked in a critical industry listed at least part-time between March 1, 2020 – Dec. 31, 2021 or have received unemployment benefits between that period. If their AGI is less than $50,000, they do not have to meet those requirements.

Tribal colleges and public institutions will have the option to opt-in to having their students qualify for the grants this spring, according to Hovis. Students at colleges that do not opt-in in the spring will be considered for the grants in fall 2022.

Economic impact

The goal of the grants is to increase the number of people graduating with a postsecondary degree and encourage them to enter careers necessary to the economy, Hovis said.

“Workforce development and supporting people looking to go into high-need areas really felt in line with our mission and our work,” Hovis said. “We also know that during the pandemic, those [workers], especially in healthcare, education and public service, were our first responders. A lot of these people were out there every day, making sure that our communities kept running.”

Teachers have become more flexible with their teaching methods due to the pandemic, said Donna Andrews, principal of Marcy School for the Arts. She said her job changed from working directly with students to supporting teachers as they transitioned to online teaching platforms.

Andrews said the Minneapolis school district is struggling to hire teachers, especially those working in special education. She also said the Minnesota Future Together grants are a great way to encourage diversity in a new generation of teachers.

“Especially in Minneapolis, we would like to see more teachers of color,” Andrews said.

One of the reasons why there is a shortage of people going into certain careers is because workers had an unpleasant experience during the pandemic, said Aaron Sojourner, labor economist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management.

“The virus basically reduces the value of work for a lot of people, especially in jobs where you’re face-to-face with customers or co-workers,” Sojourner said. “It also reduces the value of jobs for employers because maybe they’re not getting as much business as they were.”

At the same time, Sojourner said the jobs in the grant program are growing quickly and he expects more job openings than ever in the coming years. Students can learn more about which careers are expected to experience the most growth here.

“I think that it is smart to invest in our people and to offer incentives for Minnesotans to build their skills in areas that will be productive in the future,” Sojourner said.