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Adding new services, expanding programs and promoting its work are among the top priorities for the Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development next year.

MDHEWD has drafted its 2022 strategic initiatives — measures it hopes will help advance its overall mission for the year.

The department has identified a total of 18 strategic initiatives for 2022 — four are related to improving the MDHEWD workplace, six work to improve the state's educational attainment and eight support both educational attainment and labor force participation.

Jessica Duren, assistant commissioner of MDHEWD's Office of Communications and Outreach, said the initiatives are designed to help the department achieve the overarching goals it is setting as it finalizes its long-term strategic plan.

The department's strategic plan is focused on three major areas: educational attainment, labor force participation and making MDHEWD the best place to work in Missouri state government.

"We've been going through strategic planning and talking about goals and how do we get to these goals and what should our goals be, but the initiatives for 2022 are really kind of the boots on the ground," Duren said. "It's the actual work that's going to happen to help us move the needle toward our educational attainment and labor force participation goals."

A majority of the department's initiatives serve goals of educational attainment and labor force participation.

MDHEWD plans to redesign the state's public workforce development system to expand access to services and programming, invest $1.5 million to expand access to pre-apprenticeship programs in IT, healthcare, construction and manufacturing, and provide more employment opportunities for Missouri veterans.

The department is also planning to provide more employment opportunities for youth ages 14-24 and provide grants to increase the number of child care facilities on college campuses.

In partnership with DESE, MDHEWD will provide colleges grants to offer or expand on-site child care. The departments will also be providing grants for schools that start or expand early childhood professions programs.

"This work will most immediately benefit the low-income families of some of the nearly 11,000 students who lost child care services during the course of the pandemic," the department initiative states. "It will also impact some of the nearly 17,000 learners who have children under the age of six and may need child care, as well as those wanting to return to training, education and employment but who face unmet child care needs."

In addition to capturing the kind of work happening within the department, some of the 2022 initiatives help the department plan how it will engage with external stakeholders and partners, Duren said.

MDHEWD will be collecting Students' Right to Know information and launching a webpage with the information by August 2022 and highlighting the work and achievements of higher education and workforce development partners.

In the area of improving educational attainment, the department is looking to expand social services on college campuses, promote mental health resources and finish implementing a new scholarship program.

In 2020, MDHEWD began collaborating with the Department of Social Services to place staff on seven college campuses to help eligible students receive government benefits. The 2022 initiative will bring those same services to five additional campuses.

In October, MDHEWD partnered with the Missouri Department of Mental Health and Show Me Hope to create HappierU, an online resource with digital content aimed at promoting mental health among students.

The 2022 project will expand the reach of HappierU and create a student mental health task force with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and DMH to determine how to bridge the gap between services provided in high school and those offered on college campuses.

The completed implementation of the A Plus Dual Credit/Dual Enrollment scholarship program is also among the list of 2022 projects.

The scholarship, which will become available in spring 2022, pays for the cost of fees and tuition for high school students taking dual enrollment college courses, provided they meet criteria for the A Plus program.

In 2022, the department will be working to streamline the scholarship program, automate some additional components and expand marketing.

Additional projects include establishing an adult learner network to discuss barriers for adult students, expanding summer bridge programs around the state, and introducing a communication campaign to promote the value of postsecondary education.

The Coordinating Board of Higher Education reviewed the initiatives at its Nov. 16 meeting and didn't raise any significant concerns.

MDHEWD has been working to develop an updated strategic plan for most of the year and Duren said it's expected to be approved, along with the 2022 initiatives, at the December Coordinating Board of Higher Education meeting.

"Overall, the board is on board," Duren said.

The initiatives also serve as the department's strategic placemat — a list of identified projects that typically span the length of a year that each state government department sets.

The idea is for the projects to be completed within a year, Duren said, but some are continuations of projects already started and others are brand new.

This legislative session, the department will be advocating for removing the sunset and clawback provisions of the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant and for more funding for MoExcels, Access Missouri awards and college and university core funding.

The initiatives also include some projects that are currently on hold, like expanding the state's Degrees when Due program and a website redesign, and some projects that are in development, like incorporating the Missouri National Guard in apprenticeship programs and offering training services at churches.

Duren said those projects may come to fruition next year, but they aren't on the level of a placement initiative because they are often subject to outside factors.

"We wanted to really focus on stuff that we were confident that we could really kick off at the beginning of the year and make significant progress on," Duren said. "For that reason, some of these things that we just don't have any control over at this moment were put on hold."

The website redesign, for example, is waiting on the Office of Administration's IT Services Division to have the capacity to support it.

Duren said the department could always move these initiatives up and complete them next year if the extenuating factors align.

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