W. Va. lawmakers eye free college

West Virginia lawmakers have begun considering free community and technical college during the first full week of their 2018 session.

Hundreds of other bills were freshly introduced, several at the request of the Justice administration. Those included plans to fund residents’ tuition toward college associate and certificate degrees in technical trades and to help vocational high school students gain college credits.

“If we properly manage our resources we can provide, essentially, scholarships to everyone … that wants to attend community and technical college to further their education, to gain a stackable skill set, to allow them to take that trade or that education to the workforce,” Republican Senate President Mitch Carmichael said. He’d said it would be one major initiative in the 60-day legislative session.

Students’ commitment

Sen. Mike Romano, a Democrat, said the word “free” concerns some people, but the proposal has provisions to ensure the students have a personal investment.

The legislation would require tuition grant recipients maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average, take at least six credit hours a semester, pass a drug test each semester and perform eight hours of community service. They would have to repay the grant if they don’t live in West Virginia for two years after getting their degree or certificate.

Only students living in the state for at least a year and having a high school diploma or equivalent would be eligible. They would have to be at least 20 years old or participate in a high school vocational program that strikes an agreement with a college.

The Justice administration estimated a first-year cost of about $7 million. A student’s other financial aid or scholarships would apply first against tuition.

Many other senators voiced support, though some said at a committee hearing last week that they want to ensure the programs also apply to students who are home schooled or attend private schools. Another hearing is scheduled next week.

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