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Some Students Could Get Free Tuition to Historically Black Universities

Virginia State University sign
Virginia State University. (Photo: Kevin Coles/Flickr)

Low-income students in the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas may soon be eligible for a new program that would provide free tuition to a historically black college or university. That’s if Virginia lawmakers keep the money in the budget. The program is called the Virginia College Affordability Network (VCAN) and its goal is to increase college access to students in the Richmond and Norfolk areas by reducing their financial burden.

In the Richmond-area, which includes Petersburg and Colonial Heights, about 300 Pell-eligible high school graduates would receive free tuition to attend Virginia State University as part of the initiative. In planning documents submitted to Virginia’s Council of Higher Education, VSU states they’ve “been forced to turn away prospective and returning students because they were unable to pay the cost of tuition, fees and other related educational costs.” Addressing affordability is the university’s top priority over the next few years.

“As part of our 2020-2025 Strategic Plan, our goal is to increase student opportunity and access to higher education by helping to ensure affordability and reducing the financial obligation of our students,” said Donald Palm, Provost for Academic Affairs with Virginia State University in a statement to VPM. “The VCAN initiative will assist with this goal by developing a support structure for tuition and fees for the many qualified students who live right here in our area and desire access to a University that can provide a quality education and experience.  This initiative extends our reach as we continue to provide transformative opportunities for our students.”

VSU plans to target students specifically from Matoaca, Petersburg, and Colonial Heights. The program will enable qualifying students to receive free college tuition and some portion of room and board when applicable. Transportation for commuter students could also apply, according to budget documents submitted to the higher education council. Students also must live within a 25-mile radius of the campus to qualify.

About the same number of students in the Hampton Roads region could also get free tuition to attend Norfolk State University, as part of the program. Governor Ralph Northam’s budget and the House budget include $17 million to fund the program, while the Senate’s version includes $14.5 million for the program. The initiative would put a dent in the unmet student need, estimated to be about $9.5 million a year for VSU.

Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia
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