Tuition-free community college for low- and middle-income students looking to pursue jobs in high-demand fields is now an option thanks to a new program in Virginia. Governor Ralph Northam last month signed legislation that creates an initiative called the Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back (G3). The program includes $36 million to cover tuition, fees, books and provide support for eligible students at two-year public colleges throughout the Commonwealth.
“Building an equitable and inclusive economy is more important than ever as we emerge from this pandemic,” said Northam upon signing the new bill in late March. “The G3 program will connect thousands of Virginians with the skills, training, and resources they need to secure jobs in high-demand fields and support themselves and their families, all without being forced to shoulder mountains of student debt.”
Industries targeted by G3 include health care, information technology, computer science, manufacturing and skilled trades, public safety and early childhood education. Those who earn degrees in these key fields can boost their wages by 60% on average while also doubling their individual state tax contributions, recent data indicate.
Thomas Nelson College Community has 35 academic programs that meet G3 curriculum program requirements (including associate degrees, certificates and career studies), noted President Towuanna Brannon in an op-ed published earlier this year. These programs enrolled 1,883 students last year and had 363 graduates in well-paying in-demand fields including nursing, cybersecurity, mechatronics, and machining more, she stated.
“These academic programs are specifically designed to help individuals more quickly earn the skills needed to begin new careers, then obtain jobs while continuing to learn additional skills leading to a college degree and career advancement opportunities,” stated Dr. Brannon.
A first in the nation, the G3 initiative offers financial assistance to help students at the lowest income levels cover expenses such as food, transportation and child care.
As the College prepares to implement G3 this fall for the 2021-2022 academic year, the Financial Aid team stands ready to help eligible students take advantage of the new funding opportunity. Marc Vernon, director of Financial Aid and Veterans Affairs, said awards will be up to the cost of tuition, fees, and a book allowance minus any grant aid. That includes all forms of federal, state, and institutional grants as well as tuition waivers, Chapter 33, and employer tuition reimbursement.
He explained students can only be placed in approved G3 programs and may not have dual placement in non-G3 programs. While G3 is not open to high school students in the first year of the Dual Enrollment program, said Vernon, students with bachelor’s or higher degrees are eligible. To remain in a G3 program, students must demonstrate progress toward completing an associate degree in three years. Awards will be reduced for students who withdraw or stop attending through the 60% point of the term.
As for who qualifies, Vernon said students must complete the FAFSA, be deemed Title IV eligible, and have federal and state aid eligibility determined, among other requirements including:
- Must have a total household income for the tax year used on the FAFSA that is less than or equal to 400% of the Federal Poverty Level. (For example, the total household income for a family of three cannot exceed $85,320, Vernon noted.)
- Must be enrolled or accepted for enrollment in an approved G3 program.
- Must be enrolled in a minimum of six credit hours per semester.
- Must qualify for in-state financial aid.
- To qualify for the Student Support Incentive Grant (SSIG), students must be full-time (12 or more credit hours in the fall and spring semesters and six credit hours in the summer) and be eligible to receive a full Federal Pell Grant with an EFC equal to 0. Students must achieve 30 or more credit hours to continue qualifying for the SSIG. This additional assistance is intended to reduce the number of part-time hours a student has to work to spend more time studying.
Vernon said for full Pell students, the SSIG will be equal to $900 per term for full-time attendance in the fall and spring terms and $450 for half-time attendance in the summer term. As for the book allowance, the award cannot exceed $500 per term for full-time attendance and will be prorated to $375 for three-quarter time and $250 for half-time.
The grant will be disbursed in two installments. The first one will occur after the census date, and the second will be delayed until the end of the term to confirm the student did not withdraw or stop attending.
Of the $36 million the state is allocating for G3, the dollar amount each VCCS school will receive for the 2021-2022 aid year is still being examined, he noted.
For more information about G3 and other financial aid options at Thomas Nelson, visit www.tncc.edu.