(WJHL) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is proposing a plan that would set aside $145 million over two years to provide free community college in the Commonwealth.
The “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” initiative, or “G3,” would give financial support for eligible low- and middle-income students seeking a degree at a two-year public institution.
According to the governor’s office, 23 states already have a form of free community college.
Virginia Highlands Community College in Abingdon is one of 23 schools that stand to benefit if the General Assembly passes the budget proposal in the coming session. In that case, students could begin receiving assistance as early as fall 2020.
“It would apply to at least 60 percent of our students and I believe that’s a low number,” said VHCC Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator Kellie Crowe. “We offer at least a dozen different programs that this would apply to.”
The G3 program is designed to put students to work fast in fields that are in high demand in Virginia, including healthcare, information technology, computer science, early childhood education, public safety, and manufacturing.
Bristol Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Beth Rhinehart said this initiative could play an important role in diversifying rural economies.
“Workforce development, talent retention and recruitment are at the top of every conversation that we have with businesses and organizations we work with,” she said. “Anytime you have low unemployment rates like we have right now, I mean, businesses are just starved for good talent.”
According to the governor’s office, students enrolled in these programs stand to increase their wages by 60 percent and double their individual state tax contributions.
In addition to tuition assistance, some students would be eligible for another grant to help pay for things like transportation, childcare and food.
“For our students, something as simple as a flat tire can completely wreck their plans. It can knock them out of school, knock them out of classes and ‘G3’ with a lot of the components and things that it provides is really a safety net for our students.”
Students must meet the following criteria to be eligible for the G3 program:
- Be eligible for in-state tuition
- Receive a total household income less than or equal to four hundred percent of the Federal Poverty Level (roughly an income of $100 thousand for a family of four)
- Have applied for state and federal student financial aid programs for which they may be eligible
- Enroll in an eligible program
- Take a minimum of 6 credit hours each semester
- Maintain a 2.0 GPA
- Complete a certificate in the first year
- Demonstrate progress toward completion of an associate degree
- Agree to volunteer for community service upon completion of the program