Virginia governor announces plan for tuition-free community college program

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RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) — Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced on Thursday that his proposed budget for 2020 will include money to provide tuition-free community college for in-need students pursuing jobs in certain fields.

Graduates at Blue Ridge Community College in 2018,

According to a press release from Northam's office, his proposed 2020 budget includes $145 million over two years in what they're calling a “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” initiative, or “G3” program.

Essentially, it provides financial assistance to help students in the lowest income levels cover tuition, fees, and books if they're studying at a community college in high-demand degree programs.

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to get a good education and a good job, no matter who you are or how much money you have,” said Governor Northam. “This is an investment in equity and our economy—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.”

Students who qualify for full Federal Pell Grants and enroll full-time at a two-year community college in Virginia will be eligible for a Student Support Incentive Grant on a semester basis. Those grants will be in an amount up to $1,000 per semester and up to $500 per summer term.

Each participating institution then receives a Performance Payment per eligible student receiving a Student Support Incentive Grant that successfully completes 30 credit hours and an additional Performance Payment when such a student earns an associate degree.

The G3 program targets key industries, including health care and information technology to skilled trades, public safety, and early childhood education. Northam's office says data shows that participants in those high-demand programs increase their wages by 60% on average upon program completion, thus doubling their individual state tax contributions for the future.

“With Virginia’s record low unemployment rate, businesses are hungry for skilled talent,” said Chief Workforce Development Advisor Megan Healy. “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 remain eligible for the G3 program, students will be required to sign a Community Engagement Agreement and complete two hours of work experience, community service, or public service for every credit hour enrolled.

“With rising tuition costs, many Virginians are opting out of higher education,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “The G3 program provides affordable, accessible workforce pathways that will prepare the Commonwealth’s students for the growing number of high need jobs that do not require a four-year degree.”

Northam said the idea for the program came after his participation in a statewide workforce development tour in August and September, in which he spoke with more than 1,000 business and community leaders.

Last year, Northam announced a collaborative effort to transform workforce programs offered through the Virginia Community College System, which he says "will equip students with skills training on day one and provide continual pathways for working adults to obtain additional credentials throughout their career."

The full details of Gov. Northam's budget plan will be announced during an address to the Joint Money Committees on December 17.

Northam campaigned heavily on the idea of tuition-free community college for students pursuing high-demand fields during his gubernatorial run in 2017.