WHAT’S THE ISSUE: The Mid-America Regional Council, partnered with Kauffman Foundation and Mid-Continent Public Library, among others, has started a program aimed to help adults finish post-secondary education.

WHY DOES IT MATTER: MARC says more than 300,000 adults in the Kansas City metro area have some post-secondary education but have not completed their degrees or certifications that could lead to better jobs.

With an adviser’s help, Angelica Bustamante spent part of a recent day working through the scholarship application process as she readies to take some college classes.

She and adviser Cedric Deadmon hit a little snag in the online application.

“We’ll walk through it; that’s what we do,” he said. “It’s a process.”

Later, he sees some fine-tuning needed when listing attributes.

“When we fill out a scholarship application,” he tells her, “you want to be a little more specific.”

It could be confusing enough for the traditional-age student – such as Bustamante’s son, for example – preparing for college. However, she is a 49-year-old mother and massage therapist who is years removed from a college campus and says she couldn’t imagine trying to navigate her way back to classes, even online ones, by herself.

One-on-one sessions such as hers have been happening nearly every day the past couple months, as the Mid-America Regional Council launched its KC Degrees program in the fall. The group aims to tap the well of metro-area adults who have some college credit but not the degrees or certifications that can lead to better jobs and more stable lives, nor the wherewithal to get themselves back on a post-secondary education track.

Deadmon, project manager for KC Degrees, says MARC found there are more than 300,000 such adults across the two-state region.

“That’s a huge number,” he said. “That’s potential economic growth; that’s potential revenue growth.

“There’s always been a number of college access institutions for high school kids. Working with adults is a fairly new and untapped access network. There’s different challenges and barriers they have in returning to school. Different, but not insurmountable.”

Several Mid-Continent Public Library branches – including Blue Springs South, Grain Valley and South Independence in Eastern Jackson County – and Full Employment Council locations in Kansas City serve as some of the locations for meetings between adult students and their advisers.

Mid-Continent, with its availability of public computers, wireless internet, print and digital collections and free meeting and study spaces, is a natural meeting location.

Ritchie Momon, MCPL’s chief customer experience officer, said the library is honored to support MARC’s program.

“The KC Degrees program is a tremendous resource for adults in the Kansas City area who would like to pick back up where they left off in their journey to higher education,” Momon said in a news release.


The roots

Deadmon said MARC has discussed for several years how to help adults attain post-secondary education in the same way traditional-age students are advised.

They found a big partner in the Kauffman Foundation’s KC Scholars program, which launched at the same time as KC Degrees and aids low to modest-income high school students and adults with post-secondary education and 17 partner institutions ranging as far away as Kansas State University and the University of Missouri, as listed on kcscholars.org.

Business owners and economists have noted that some jobs are there for the taking – if people with the necessary training or education are available. Others have noted that education leading to better jobs can reduce poverty and crime in certain neighborhoods by extension.

Deadmon says the KC Degrees program helps fill those gaps from the pool of 300,000. MARC says more than 40 percent of jobs now require at least a bachelor’s degree, and people with those degrees make an estimated 66 percent more during their careers than those with only a high school diploma.

“We’ve adopted the national model to what the needs of the Kansas City area are,” Deadmon said. “It’s truly an economic development and workforce development initiative.

“We’ve got to capitalize on our most valuable asset, and that’s the people.”

Through one-on-one sessions and workshops like the first financial aid one held this week, advisers such as Deadmon will try to help the adult students with the whole journey – applications, scholarships and academics.

“It’s like being dropped in the middle of a corn maze and trying to find your way out,” he said. “We drop in the middle with them and stay with them until they reach the ultimate goal.”

Deadmon said about 150 prospective adult students have enrolled in the KC Degrees program thus far. KC Scholars says it will have 200 annual awards for adult students, up to $5,000 a year for five years.


Everyone wins

College sort of fell on the back burner for Bustamante when she was younger.

“I went to college because my friends were going to college,” she said.

Bustamante has enjoyed her work in massage therapy, but at 17 years in the business she’s already well past the average span for a job that can be physically demanding. With 77 credit hours on hand – hopefully they all can transfer – she wants to take online classes to finish a degree in nutrition.

“It’s something I could add to my business, and even do by itself,” she said.

It might not have been possible without the KC Degrees program, which she learned about from Deadmon at her son’s KC Scholars parents meeting.

“It’s been so long, I wasn’t sure where I was,” she said. “Because of my age, I never thought I could get grants and scholarships.”

Deadmon, who worked on a similar statewide program in Tennessee, said this type of work is a calling for him, and he feels fortunate in this case to “Feast on the legacy of Mr. (Ewing) Kauffman.”

“We’re laying a foundation, laying the structure for results, and I probably won’t live to see the full results,” he said.

He’s referring to results of people’s careers. A student such as Bustamante sporting a freshly minted degree or certificate in the workforce will be quite satisfying, too, he said.

“When Angelica wins,” Deadmon said, “we win as a region.”

For more information, call 844-872-6009 or visit www.kcdegrees.org.