How one university used workforce development funds to broaden access to non-credit training

Expert Insight

How one university used workforce development funds to broaden access to non-credit training

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt the economy, you’re likely seeking ways to help unemployed workers develop additional skills or find new jobs. Some are now leveraging public funding from workforce development boards to broaden access to students in need. For example, with the support of state CARES Act funding, Dixie State University recently launched the DSU CARES initiative for displaced workers, which offers heavily discounted courses at $20 per credit. Students who complete courses at Dixie State can also stack these credits into bachelor’s degrees in high-demand fields, including information technology and health communications.

Other institutions are using their relationships with their local workforce development boards to offer non-credit professional development programming for their region’s unemployed workers. We spoke with Cheryl Murphy and Tara Dryer at the University of Arkansas to hear how they partnered with state agencies to fund enrollment for displaced workers. Here is their advice on how to approach partnership with government bodies that focus on workforce readiness.

Leverage existing B2B staff to connect with your local workforce development board now

Developing a relationship with your local workforce development board requires investment in both time and relationship building. But these efforts can also pay off as your institution becomes the trusted provider for professional development training in your region.

Tara Dryer serves as the Director of Training, Corporate Development and Academic Outreach at the University of Arkansas, Global Campus. In her role, she develops employer partnerships but also builds relationships with government agencies to expand access to professional training programs. As the recession hit and companies started to cut back on training spending, Tara easily pivoted her role to focus more heavily on government partnerships.

Identify the industry sectors and skill clusters most in demand in your community to aid your region’s economic recovery

When the pandemic first hit in March, Tara analyzed data from their state’s economic analysis to determine what programs best aligned with labor market opportunities. From March to August 2020, the health care, technical services, and manufacturing industries posted the highest proportion of jobs in the state.

Determine gaps in workforce development programs already offered in your region to avoid competing with existing options


displaced worker trainings offered online
displaced worker trainings offered online

University leaders should examine what in-demand professional trainings are already offered in your region. Workforce development centers often do not want to impinge on existing relationships with colleges they already work with. Tara and her team used their existing infrastructure and expertise to move their in-person workforce development courses online to serve the community in a matter of weeks. As many of the successful workforce development courses were only provided in-person by other training providers, this transition to online learning helped the University of Arkansas satisfy the demand for professional training for a workforce rapidly shifting to remote work and learning. In addition to developing remote professional development courses, your institution may be able to offer short-format courses in specialized business topics, such as business continuity planning, or highly technical fields, including cloud computing.

Today, Tara and her team offer over 75 online programs for dislocated workers in the state, including electronic health records management and web development trainings. Since the pandemic hit, student enrollment has been concentrated in information technology courses, with the most interest in software development skills. The University of Arkansas will also receive funding from the Reimagine Worker Preparation federal grant for additional workforce development in the state. Tara’s goal is to provide training to at least 3,000 unemployed workers in Arkansas.

“We want to complete, not compete with, the existing programs offered in our region”

– Dr. Tara Dryer, Director of Training, Corporate Development and Academic Outreach

Develop a partnership with a spirit of generosity and service

Arkansas Global Campus provides their local workforce board data on student attendance, achievement, and completion to help them understand the impact their programs have on participants. This has strengthened the partnership and sets them apart from other providers working in this space. To ensure their professional development courses have a high impact on their students, Tara also dedicates members of her staff to coordinate with career advisors at the local workforce boards. Tara’s team helps career advisors articulate which courses confer specific skills and how to chart a pathway to a new job based on a student’s interests and goals. By providing student data and helping the local workforce board support students, the University of Arkansas is achieving their goals of educating a skilled workforce in their community.

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