Western Kentucky University's Learn and Earn program is looking for Bowling Green partners to help more students.

WKU Glasgow campus already has enough students to fulfill the need there, said Sally Ray, regional chancellor of WKU Glasgow.

"We have enough to meet the needs in Barren County, but students here are interested," she said.

There is a need for a Bowling Green company to partner with the program, said Program Manager Leslie Witty.

"Every student can't afford to drive to Glasgow," she said.

The student response in Bowling Green has been "incredible," Witty said.

"A lot of nontraditional students are asking about it," she said. "It's giving an opportunity to people who might not have it."

In Learn and Earn, students have soft skills training classes before companies hire them. They have to go through an interview process, and it's the company's decision whether they are hired. If hired, students work entry-level part-time jobs for companies and get paid $10 to $13 an hour. The companies also pay 50 percent of their tuition if they keep a C or above grade point average.

"For companies strained for resources, this is a great thing. It's great for students. Most of them work anyway. Why not work for one of our employers and earn tuition?" Ray said. "With rises in tuition it's not going to get any better. For us it's about education and providing them a means to get help with the rising cost of college."

Many of the companies need more workers because of high turnover and expansion, Witty said.

"We're trying to provide a work force," she said.

The program saves companies money and helps the students, Ray and Witty agreed.

"If you look at how much the companies are out, that figure is much higher than the scholarship. It helps save the companies money," Witty said. "If you're hiring part-time employees you're not paying benefits, which will save you money. It helps them keep people in the area."

Ray said companies could possibly develop a full-time employee.

"It gives students a competitive edge. They get training and professional coaching so when they're done they have several things to put on their resume," she said. "It's a win for the students, a win for the employers and a win for the region."

SpanTech Training Director Tiffany Somerville said the program has been a great asset. They have one Learn and Earn employee, Thomas Bratcher. 

"We've had him for about three months. He's been a wonderful employee for us," she said. "Thomas is dedicated and hardworking for us. It's been super. Sometimes it's hard to find a part-time position."

SpanTech is closely connected to schools and WKU Glasgow, Somerville said.

"We've got internships we do with the high schools and Western," she said. "We like to find talent when they're young. We help somebody through school and it provides us with talented work personnel to choose from."

Somerville loves the program.

"If we had other positions, I would go back to the Learn and Earn program and see if we could fill it that way," she said. "We would encourage anybody to use it."

Bratcher, a junior biology major, called the program a "Godsend." If he had gotten a full-time job he would've had to cancel half his classes.

"It's a blessing because for someone in my position to be able to work part time and have a family, it would take twice as much time," he said.

When Bratcher lost his job as a medical device salesman after working in cardiology for 20 years, he leaned on his retirement money to go to school.

"When I lost my job I decided to go back to school and get a higher degree," he said. "I thought I had enough money, but I realized I was burning it out fast."

Bratcher started college 20 years ago, but dropped out, got married and started a family. He believes the program is a "tremendous opportunity." He plans to go to medical school.

"If I had been given the opportunity 20 years ago I would have taken it. Now that half of it is taken care of I can get my degree," he said. "The team at SpanTech has been wonderful. I have nothing but great things to say about the program and the company I work for."

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Alyssa Harvey writes features stories for the Bowling Green Daily News. You can reach her at 270-783-3257 or on Twitter at twitter.com/bgdnfeatures.