Measures to enact and fund a proposal to make community college education more affordable, or even free for thousands of low-to-moderate income Virginians is working its way through the 2021 General Assembly.
It’s essentially the same program that lawmakers approved last winter, but was shelved in the spring when state government froze spending during the economic slow-down caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
G3 (“Get a Skill, Get a Job, Give Back”) would pay for tuition, fees and textbooks for low-to-moderate income Virginians who train in targeted fields to fill jobs that Virginia employers are desperate to fill (healthcare, information technology and computer science, manufacturing and skilled trades, early childhood education, and public safety.)
In rough terms, a student could qualify for funding if he or she came from a family of four with a combined household income of $100,000 or less.
The governor proposed $36 million to fund G3 in the budget year that begins in July.
“Tuition-free community college has been a top priority of Governor Northam’s since his campaign – and it is a critical part of rebuilding Virginia’s economy in a post-pandemic world,” said Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Major business and trade groups support the program, and key General Assembly leaders are chief sponsors of the legislation.
College leaders also have advocated publicly for the G3 program. To read Thomas Nelson Community College President Porter Bannon’s recent op-ed in Tidewater newspapers, click here.
In a legislative briefing last week, the VCCS State Board was told that the successful rollout and growth of the system’s FastForward workforce training program helped to build credibility among lawmakers, and that is helping G3’s chances.
You can keep track of the status of G3 legislation here.
Funding for more community college advisors:
VCCS leaders also are seeking an additional $5 million in the current General Assembly to hire more advisors to provide onboarding support, financial counseling, and career planning to get students into program pathways that lead to good jobs or seamless transfer.
Research shows the need for intentional, sustained advising for students facing personal and academic challenges. In fact, a 2017 report from the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) documented that Virginia’s Community Colleges need more advisors to ensure adequate help for students.
A VCCS staffing survey this month identified only 75 full-time, professional advisors at our community colleges. This number falls fall short of the need. Research shows that an optimum community college student-to-advisor ratio is 200:1. The current ratio of VCCS students to full-time professional advisors is 2,000:1.
To reach the goal of a 200:1 student-to-advisor ratio for the 150,000 new students who enroll every year, Virginia’s Community Colleges will need an additional 675 full-time advisors, at a cost of more than $50 million.
So the $5 million being sought this year is considered a down-payment toward that long-term goal.