Applying for a scholarship, no matter how small, is always a worthwhile endeavor for college students. For Michelle Waller, receiving the Workforce Development Scholarship gave her the chance to pay for her last two semesters of college debt free.

Waller graduated from Minnesota State College Southeast with an Associate of Arts in cyber and information security plus a diploma in network administration and technology in May.

A mother with three children at home, Waller wanted to go back to school to help her husband support their family as well as to start a new career and show her children it can be done.

While at MSC Southeast, Waller helped with strategic planning and was also the president of the student senate. She returned to campus last week where she met with Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra, Rep. Barb Haley and Sen. Mike Goggin to talk about the Workforce Development Scholarships.

"Sometimes I'm not one that would typically check the boxes to receive a scholarship, so this one was super exciting for me," Waller said.

That $2,500 provided invaluable.

Malhotra has been visiting colleges all over the state in recent weeks, speaking to the community about the Workforce Development Scholarships. He stopped July 11 in Red Wing.

Minnesota faces a workforce shortage, prompting businesses, legislators and colleges to come together to figure out the best way to address those needs.

The Workforce Development Scholarships began in 2017, a vision of the newly elected Haley. Having now finished her third legislative session, Haley said she gets students in her office who tell her how much those scholarships mean to them, and seeing Waller is only more motivation to continue the program many years into the future.

As a member of the governor's Workforce Development Council, Haley said higher education is one of the best ways Minnesota can stay competitive. Students' success begets our success, according to Haley.

"When I'm out talking to manufacturers, we all admire this problem, this workforce problem," Haley said. "But we've got to do more on the solution side and track what's working, what are other states doing."

In 2017, the pilot program began with $1 million appropriated for the scholarships across Minnesota State campuses. The first eligible career fields focused on manufacturing, agriculture, health care and information technology.

Now, funding will increase annually to as much as $6 million by 2021. To put that in perspective, that means:

• 2019-400 scholarships

• 2020-668 scholarships

• 2021-2,400 scholarships

Goggin said Haley asked him to carry legislation on the Senate side. It was easy for him to get behind a program like this, Goggin said, because he's spoke with numerous business owners who say they need more qualified help.

"The workforce is changing so rapidly. We have to be able to give the workforce participants the opportunity to be able to keep up and change with the demands that are out there in their workplace," Goggin said.

The program has expanded since its original five offerings. At Minnesota State College Southeast, early childhood education and transportation have been added to the list.

Apply now

An additional 18 scholarships of $2,500 will be offered next year at Minnesota State College Southeast. The deadline to apply is Aug. 5.

Malhotra said across all of their colleges and universities, they have some 80,000 students of modest means, 10,000 veterans and 90,000 students who are 25 years and older.

"For these students, $500, a $1,000 difference between the cost of education and the resources they have will make or break a decision whether they stay in there or not," Malhotra said.

Waller said she'd love to come back and work for the college some day. She hopes someone else will have the same chance she did to succeed.

"Because of these funds, it helps people in need from all walks of life, in different sections of their path and journey," Waller said. "So all scholarships, large or small, they're going to impact these students more than you know. And without these scholarships, people like me wouldn't be able to finish school."

To apply for the Workforce Development Scholarships, visit " target="_blank">www.southeastmn.edu.