Fast Track Certificates 2.0

by Catalina Myers  |   

Automotive Technology student Mallory Hanna works on a brake assembly during instructor Randal Smith's brake systems (ADT A150) course in UAA's Automotive and Diesel Technology Building. (Photo by James Evans / UAA)
Thanks to a $3 million American Rescue Plan Act grant, students at UAA, as well as individuals living in the Municipality of Anchorage can apply for UAA's Fast Track program and receive funds to cover the cost of their program. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

 In fall 2020, UAA debuted a suite of Fast Tack Career Certificates designed to help individuals acquire new skills quickly to reenter the workforce or energize their current career. The certificate programs were developed based on current and emerging state economic trends and were a collaborative effort between university leaders and industry partners, local and state officials regarding real-time employment needs.

This fall, $3 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding allocated by the Municipality of Anchorage (MOA) has been added to the Fast Track Certificate program. The ARPA grant provides funds for 30 lower-division credit hours of a one-year occupational endorsement certificate program from UAA or qualifying program within the MOA and the associated costs up to $9,000, including living expenses, with a maximum award of $18,000 per individual. 

“It is really a unique program, but it's so exciting,” said Heather Nash, associate director of Academic Innovations & eLearning and director of the ARPA Fast Track program. “There’s a wide range of educational opportunities that will qualify for this program.” 

Nash said the program is a unique example of the good that a great collaboration can do to support a community. She said in addition to the programs listed under the Fast Track Certificate program, about 35 MOA programs qualify for the ARPA grant, but that could potentially expand.

Frances Basketfield, student success coordinator in Academic Innovations & eLearning’s Distant Student Services, said the ARPA grant money program will run through 2023. She is part of the two-person team with Academic Innovations & eLearning staff member Rob Carillo tasked with distributing the funds to as many students as possible during the two-year run of the program.

“We're trying to move as many students as possible because this is only going to be open for, I would say, four semesters worth of students over the next two academic years,” said Basketfield. “It’s a really great opportunity that we hope people will take advantage of.”

Basketfield said that individuals must meet the criteria to qualify for the program but that it’s small and should not deter them from applying. Individuals must be residing within the MOA and fulfill one of the following situations: be unemployed for six months, have received unemployment after March 2020, determined to be economically disadvantaged and not have or currently be enrolled in an educational or training program. 

According to Basketfield, word has already gotten out about the program, and they’ve been reviewing student applications. She and Carillo encourage any individual interested in the program to get their application in as soon as possible and believe once more people hear about the program that funds will be distributed quickly. 

“We’re really here to help guide them through the entire process,” said Basketfield. “We’re working with career services to help turn them onto the best opportunities to get them placed in a job they will enjoy.”

Nash said it’s been a hectic summer with her small team handling the ARPA grant. They have spent the last two months organizing, honing their processes and preparing for what they expect will be a busy fall reviewing and accepting applications and distributing funds for the fall and spring semesters.

“This is one of the purest efforts to support students and people in our community that I think I've ever seen,” said Nash. “We’ve all been through this huge ordeal with COVID, and the municipality collaborating with one of the city’s largest organizations to really help people and overcome obstacles is rare to see.”

Denise Runge, provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, said the collaboration between MOA and UAA is great because it broadens the university’s scope to help individuals quickly attain skills to rejoin the workforce. Additionally, she said it is an opportunity for people who think “college isn’t for them" to try a college course.

“It’s a chance for them to dip their toes in the water and see if they like it,” said Runge. “What’s great about all our certificate programs is that they build upon each other, and a certificate can lead into an associate or bachelor’s program if one chooses to follow that path.”

Basketfield and Carillo know they have their work cut out for the next two years but are excited about the program and encourage anyone interested to apply and contact them if they have questions about the program or need help getting started.

“I really want to help people find and successfully complete a program,” said Basketfield. “I’d like the individuals in this program to leave with confidence and not just a job, but a career.”

Visit the Fast Track Cerificates website to learn more about eligibility criteria and how to get started.

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