Using free tuition to draw students into certain fields

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announces his proposed workforce initiative Thursday at Northern Virginia Community College. (Photo courtesy of the governor's office)

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed budget will include $145 million over the biennium to make tuition-free community college available to low- and middle-income students who pursue jobs in high-demand fields. It also would provide grants to cover expenses such as food, transportation and childcare to low-income college students.

The Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back (G3) initiative will provide financial support to cover tuition, fees, and books for eligible students at Virginia’s two-year public colleges, Northam said Thursday.

“This is an investment in equity and our economy,” Northam said in making the announcement at Northern Virginia Community College. “By helping Virginians get the skills they need, we’re building a world-class workforce while ensuring all Virginians can support themselves, their families and their communities.”

The G3 program is one of the first in the nation to provide wraparound financial assistance to help students at the lowest income levels, according to the proposal. Students who qualify for full Pell grants and enroll full-time will receive a Student Support Incentive Grant each semester of up to $1,000 ($500 for the summer term).

To remain eligible for the program, students must sign a “community engagement agreement” and complete two hours of work experience, community service or public service for every credit hour enrolled.

In addition, each participating institution will receive a “performance payment” per eligible student receiving the grant who successfully completes 30 credit hours, and an additional performance payment when such a student earns an associate degree.

Targeting workforce gaps

The initiative will target key industries, from healthcare and information technology, to skilled trades, public safety and early childhood education, according to the governor’s office. Data show that, on average, participants in these high-demand degree programs increase their wages by 60 percent upon program completion and double their individual state tax contributions, the office said.

“With Virginia’s record-low unemployment rate, businesses are hungry for skilled talent,” said Megan Healy, chief workforce development advisor. “The G3 program will help Virginia businesses of all sizes fill open jobs, connect Virginians with the necessary training and credentials to find good-paying work, and grow the Commonwealth’s economy.”

To prepare for the G3 program, Northam last year announced a collaborative effort to transform workforce programs offered through the Virginia Community College System. This model will equip students with skills training on day one and provide continual pathways for working adults to obtain additional credentials throughout their careers.

Northam will share the full details of his budget plan on December 17 before state lawmakers.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.