Gov. Northam announces proposal for free community college

NORFOLK, Va. - Getting into college and staying motivated isn't always easy.

Locals like Nadjah Simmons know that well. The Norfolk resident was raised by a single parent and is one of eight children.

If all goes as planned, she will be the first in her family to receive a college education.

To fulfill that dream, she works two jobs. When she's not at work, she's a full-time student at Tidewater Community College.

She says the financial burden is straining even before she walks into the classroom.

"[We have to pay for] parking, the travel to school, tuition, books," Simmons says.

When all is said and done, the cost is too much, which turns many prospective students away.

Governor Ralph Northam is trying to change this narrative.

In his 2020 budget proposal, he's hoping to make community colleges across the state tuition-free for students who qualify. The initiative is called "Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back," and he wants to allocate $145 million over two years to do so.

"Everyone deserves the opportunity to get a good education and a good job, no matter who you are or how much money you have,” said Governor Northam in a press conference on Thursday. “This is an investment in equity and our economy—by helping Virginians get the skills they need, we’re building a world-class workforce while ensuring all Virginians can support themselves, their families and their communities.”

To be eligible, students must be considered low-income. They also must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Marian Anderfuren with Tidewater Community College explains that, "[after completing the FAFSA] then whatever federal student aid doesn't pay, G3 picks up those last dollars."

The G3 funds would make up for the difference between what financial aid pays for and the cost of tuition, fees and books for the program.

Other requirements include:

  • Enroll in an eligible program (specifics still to come)
  • Take a minimum of 6 credit hours each semester or complete a FastForward short-term credential program
  • Maintain a 2.0 GPA
  • Complete a certificate in the first year
  • Demonstrate progress toward completion of an associate degree
  • Agree to volunteer for community service upon completion of the program

The money is designed to help students with expenses like food, transportation and even childcare.

Simmonds says it takes into consideration that you're not just a student and have other factors affecting your education.

G3 is available for both full- and part-time students.

The program will also target key industries from health care and information technology to skilled trades, public safety and early childhood education.

“Over the past year we have worked diligently to create programs that will prepare our community for career training in Virginia. Governor Northam's G3 program will help secure a better future for Peninsula residents and create a well-equipped workforce to meet the needs of employers in our region. It is our privilege to train, develop, and invest in the next generation of highly skilled workers on the Peninsula and by removing the barrier of the cost of education we expect to exceed the needs of the families and employers of this area,” said Dr. Susan English, Thomas Nelson Vice President of Academic Affairs and Workforce Development.

According to the governor's office, "data show that on average, participants in these high-demand degree programs increase their wages by 60% upon program completion and double their individual state tax contributions."

All of these industries have job openings in Hampton Roads.

Currently, G3 is just a proposal in Northam's budget proposal. Nothing will be set in stone until after the General Assembly meets in January.

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