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Northam Proposes Free Community College for Around 40,000 Students

Close up photo of Governor Ralph Northam
Governor Ralph Northam (Craig Carper/VPM News)

An estimated 40,000 community college students could get their tuition, fees, and books fully covered under a plan proposed on Thursday by Governor Ralph Northam.

The governor is calling for the state to set aside $145 million over the next two years to help students studying skills required in high-demand jobs in areas that include skilled trades, information technology, healthcare, and early childhood education.

Northam pitched the project, which he dubbed “G3” (“Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back”), as a win for businesses facing shortages of certain skill sets as well as for employees seeking higher wages.

“By increasing their wages, a lot of their finances will come right back into our economy,” Northam said at the announcement at Northern Virginia Community College. “So it is really a win-win situation for Virginia.”

To be eligible, students would have to receive a total household income less than or equal to four hundred percent of the Federal Poverty Level --  an income of roughly $100,000 for a family of four.

Students who go through the program would have to perform “work experience, community service, or public service,” with hours matched to the number of credits. They could also get help with food, transportation, and childcare through grants of up to $1,000 per semester.

The plan was cheered by Glenn Dubois, Chancellor of the Virginia Community College System.

“This large investment will help tens of thousands of Virginians earn the skills needed to fully participate in our 21st century economy,” Dubois said. “We are ready to make sure all Virginians can get the right skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow.”

Northam has been announcing elements of his proposed two-year budget this week. The General Assembly will begin negotiating the budget when they meet in January.

A spokesman for incoming-GOP House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert declined to comment on the plan.

Ben Paviour covers state politics for VPM News with a focus on accountability journalism.