Virginia made community college tuition-free — for some students
How is “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” going?
It’s been over three years since former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced a program called G3 — “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” — to help pay for the education of community college students in high-demand fields across the state.
Broadly, those high-demand fields include: health care, manufacturing and skilled trades, information technology, public safety and early childhood education (ECE). Eligible programs range from addiction counseling to massage therapy to the education of individuals with autism.
In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly funded the program’s inception at $69 million across the biennium. Though the budget for the next two fiscal years isn’t final, lawmakers have indicated they’ll continue to hold funding steady. There’s also a proposed $8 million to help raise awareness of the program.
The state funding provides “last dollar” support to students whose households are earning at or below 400% of the federal poverty level: $120,000 for a family of four in 2023. The program is still considered to be in its infancy, because it didn’t officially launch until July 2021.
“Last dollar” means that all federal and state and financial aid is applied before G3 funding kicks in. Students in the program have to apply for financial aid to qualify for G3.
“The outcome is that usually students who are at that 400% poverty level or below will not have to pay out of pocket for tuition and fees,” Van Wilson told VPM News earlier this year, as interim senior vice chancellor for academic and workforce programs at the Virginia Community College System.
Last month, Wilson took on the role of interim president of Brightpoint Community College.
In the academic year beginning fall 2021, the program provided funding to over 11,000 students statewide — as well as extra financial support to more than 2,900 students for non-academic expenses like transportation and food. These incentive grants are available to students enrolled full-time who receive federal Pell grants.
What are G3 students studying?
Health care has been the most popular field overall, making up 47% of enrollment in G3 that academic year. That’s compared to just 4% enrollment in early childhood education and public safety programs, respectively.
Wilson said the COVID-19 pandemic has put an added focus on the health care workforce, adding that the field’s popularity is driven by industry demands and salaries. Another factor, he pointed out, is that health care is much more heavily regulated in terms of credentials and requirements than ECE.
“As perhaps salaries are improved for those working in those other sectors, I think there would be opportunities for you to see an expansion in enrollments and demands for those academic programs as well,” Wilson said.
Manufacturing and skilled trades accounted for 23% of enrollment.
Hayden Bayles, who is studying precision machining at Brightpoint Community College in Chester, said the G3 program has been a lifeline for him. He completed the first year of the two-year program as a high schooler at Dinwiddie County High School and plans to graduate this fall.
“Without G3 I probably would have either not been able to complete my final year or would have been kind of stranded — kind of stuck — until I had the financial help to be able to start it back up,” Bayles told VPM News.
Bayles said without the program, he also wouldn’t have his job as a machine operator at Amsted Rail, where he helps prepare the materials needed to assemble bearings for railcar wheels. His adviser recommended him for the position.
As part of G3, students can take classes for credit applied toward a certificate or degree, or non-credit classes to help students earn industry-related credentials more quickly.
G3-eligible programs saw a 9% jump in enrollment between fall 2020 and fall 2021, and 83% of students who enrolled in G3 in fall 2021 remained enrolled in the spring 2022 semester.
Craig Herndon, senior vice chancellor for administration, finance and technology for the Virginia Community College System, told VPM News early indicators of the G3 program are promising. That said, he noted VCCS was not actively engaged in seeking resources to expand the program in the recent General Assembly session.
There were two bills introduced this year seeking to expand the program, though both failed to pass. One would’ve created a workgroup to explore expansion, while another would’ve expanded the program to include K-12 and special education.
“We’re enthusiastic that the General Assembly is seeing value in this relatively new program,” Herndon said. “We want to make sure we come back with an iron-clad, airtight case in future sessions to share return on investment.”
Herndon said about one-third of the 300,000 vacant jobs in Virginia require less than a bachelor’s degree but more than a high school diploma. That’s where he said the community college system plays a crucial role.
“Helping folks find their way to community colleges — and not just to our colleges, but to the specific programs that are going to provide for them the life-changing, family-sustaining wages that are available in Virginia — is critical,” Herndon said. “And we lack a lot of resources right now to help people find their way to us.
“And then once they're with us, provide them with the appropriate guidance and career counseling that's going to deliver them as quickly as possible to both the job that they so desperately want and to life-changing income that comes with that job. And to supply businesses with the people they most need right now.”
G3 enrollments, 2021-22 academic year
| ||Unduplicated Students||Credit Students||Noncredit Students||Enrolled both Credit and Noncredit|
|J. Sargeant Reynolds*||540||540||.||.|
|Patrick & Henry||408||238||172||2|
|Paul D. Camp||127||85||43||1|
Data provided by VCCS.
*Students served by the Community College Workforce Alliance (CCWA), which operates at both Brightpoint and Reynolds. The 454 workforce students were divided between Brightpoint and Reynolds.