Noting a spike in unemployment and hunger across the state during the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Ralph Northam used a visit to Reynolds Community College last week to spotlight his hopes for economic recovery, and the role that our colleges will play in the rebound.
“The best thing we can do is to get people trained, and re-trained to get back into the workforce,” said Northam during a tour of Kitchens at Reynolds, the college’s new culinary arts center in Richmond’s east end.
“We have to reach out and give some people the support they need, not only with tuition and books, but also with expenses like transportation, food and child care,” added Northam.
G3 (“Get a Skill, Get a Job, Give Back”) is a is a targeted program that would provide extra financial assistance to low-and-middle-income Virginians who seek training in the fields of healthcare, information technology and computer science, manufacturing and skilled trades, early childhood education, and public safety.
Northam asked the General Assembly to devote $34.5 million to the initiative in the budget year that begins July 1. And with less than a week to go before adjournment, the program appears to be secure in the new state budget.
Thousands of students could gain access to community colleges through the initiative for free or at greatly reduced cost.
This program may sound a bit familiar, and there’s good reason: lawmakers funded the initiative during their 2020 legislative session, but state government shelved the program before it began, when the coronavirus pandemic hit last spring and threw the economy into a tailspin.
Now, with state revenue projections looking better than expected, lawmakers are looking to the recovery, and to the VCCS to play its part.
“Academic success often does not depend on intellectual ability, but on removing the obstacles that stand in the way of our students,” said state senator Ghazala Hashmi, a former Reynolds professor and administrator. “It’s truly transformative to help students gain the skills and credentials they need to secure good jobs.”
In terms of importance to Virginia’s Community Colleges, VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois said that G3 ranks as number two, behind the founding of the system in 1966. “We truly are on the threshold of greatness,” said DuBois, “and the nation is watching.”
Additional budget notes: House and Senate negotiators still haven’t finalized all the details in the state spending plan, but it appears the budget will include money for the VCCS to hire additional advisors to help onboard and guide students onto pathways toward success in their studies.
Again, recognizing negotiations are still underway, lawmakers also are considering awarding pay raises to state employees (including VCCS faculty and classified workers) in the coming budget year, replacing an earlier plan to provide one-time bonuses.
The General Assembly is expected to wrap up its current session on March 1.
You can view a video of the governor’s February 15 visit to the Kitchens at Reynolds here.