FastTracks program: Another way to remove barriers to a college degree

Northwest Missouri State students (and MCC alumni) Harrisen Speck (left) and Kaitlin Corcoran joined the MCC Wolf and Northwest’s Bobby Bearcat at the FastTracks event. The new PAWS scholarship will save students money on the tuition of some Northwest classes. (Photos by Chris Meggs/MCC)

Students will now find it easier to jump on the FastTracks, and have more paths to take once they’re on board.

Metropolitan Community College and Northwest Missouri State University marked the expansion of the FastTracks program with a signing ceremony Feb. 14 at the Northwest-Kansas City campus in Gladstone.

FastTracks aims to provide a speedy, affordable route to both an MCC associate degree and a Northwest bachelor’s degree — all possible without leaving Kansas City, although students can also opt to take Northwest classes at its Maryville campus or online.

Under a new agreement signed by MCC Chancellor Kimberly Beatty and Northwest President John Jasinski, FastTracks will offer additional degree options (it launched last fall with four) and allow students with dual credit from high school and those who successfully complete developmental courses to join the program.

MCC Chancellor Kimberly Beatty and Northwest President John Jasinski sign the new FastTracks agreement.

Northwest also announced a new PAWS scholarship — its mascot is the Bearcats — for FastTracks students, which will reduce the tuition of the Northwest classes students take early on. Generally, students will take mostly MCC courses (at any campus) their first two years, but will also take one or two Northwest classes each semester. The scholarship will save FastTracks students about $4,500 in Northwest tuition.

Many students encounter obstacles when it comes to pursuing a college education. The two primary ones are finances and transportation, MCC’s Dr. Beatty said. FastTracks is another way to remove those barriers. The program also strengthens the focus on retaining students and seeing them complete their degrees, she said.

The Northwest and MCC leaders with Mike Thomson (right), a member of the state Coordinating Board for Higher Education

A special guest at the ceremony was Mike Thomson,  a member of Missouri’s Coordinating Board for Higher Education. In 2011 the state set a goal that 60 percent of its workforce should hold a college certificate or degree by 2025. “I think this is another tool in the bag,” Thomson said of FastTracks.

Thomson, a former state representative and educator, commended both institutions for putting the program together.

In late 2016, the Missouri Department of Higher Education called for pilot proposals  for concurrent enrollment programs, a mandate of Senate Bill 997.  The bill included several measures designed to support student success in higher education, MCC Vice Chancellor Kathrine Swanson explained.

FastTracks is one of three concurrent-enrollment partnerships that got the green light from the state. Next January, MDHE will report on the progress of the three pilots to the governor and General Assembly.

MCC’s Kathrine Swanson, vice chancellor for student success and engagement

With FastTracks “our overall goal is to provide students with a seamless opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in four years or less, in a cost-effective manner, without losing credits,” Swanson said.

The beauty of a pilot program, she added, is that “we continually meet, evaluate, learn from our efforts and make adjustments.” MCC and Northwest learned from the initial rollout of FastTracks that “our design was too narrow.”

Northwest’s Jasinski spoke of “performance excellence,” “partnership excellence” and “student-focused excellence.”

“We don’t take partnerships for granted,” the Northwest president said. “We don’t partner with everyone. We partner with leaders.”

He called FastTracks a triple win — for the two institutions and for students — but it’s even more than that. The program is also a win for the communities involved and for employers, Jasinski said.

A number of MCC and Northwest officials were on hand for the event.

Two current Northwest students, both MCC graduates who attended the Maple Woods campus, took part in the ceremony. Kaitlin Corcoran,  a junior, said it’s obvious the two institutions listened to students when developing FastTracks.

“I really wish it had been up and running when I had gone to Maple Woods,” said junior Harrisen Speck. “I’ve recommended it to quite a few people already.”

Interested in learning more? Visit fasttrackskc.com or call MCC at 816.604.1000. Students must first enroll at MCC, then apply to the FastTracks program.

“41 Action News” covered the FastTracks ceremony:

Related: MCC, Northwest Missouri State to celebrate expansion of FastTracks program