Gov. Ralph Northam stopped by Danville Community College on Wednesday morning to promote a tuition-free program that went into effect July 1 for community colleges across the state.
Known as the “G3 initiative” — for “get skilled, get a job and get ahead” — the program provides free tuition for students who enter high-demand fields at the state’s 23 community colleges.
The program addresses the problem of students’ enrolling in community college only to drop out due to costs.
“A lot of individuals go to our community colleges, and then they don’t complete their curriculum, and it’s not because of their grades, it’s because they can’t afford it,” Northam told community leaders during a speech inside DCC’s Student Center. “And so we want everybody in Virginia to be able to have the opportunity to go to a community college.”
The G3 program helps students pay their tuition and also helps them with their “wraparound expenses,” such as transportation and child care, Northam said.
G3 targets key industries, including heath care, information technology and computer science, manufacturing and skilled trades, public safety, and early childhood education.
According to the governor’s office, students in those high-demand degree programs increase their wages by 60% after completing them and double their individual state tax contributions.
Before speaking at the student center, Northam toured DCC’s precision machining and welding facilities, two programs offered under G3.
“Those are probably the biggest programs that will be covered by the G3 program,” DCC spokesperson Faith O’Neil told the Danville Register & Bee.
DCC interim president Muriel Mickles said she was delighted with Northam’s visit and praised the G3 initiative.
“This is definitely a game-changer for the citizens that we serve,” Mickles told the Danville Register & Bee after Northam’s speech.
Northam signed legislation creating the program on March 29, after bills to establish and fund the program passed the House of Delegates and state Senate with bipartisan support.
“They [participating students] want to work, they want to provide for themselves and their families,” Northam said.
When students get a well-paying job, they will be paying taxes back into the system, he said when asked about students under the program getting a “free ride.”
Under the G3 program, students who qualify for a full federal Pell grant and enroll full-time will receive student-support incentive grants every semester. Students can get up to $900 in grant money per semester and up to $450 per summer term.
“We knew there were still some gaps in accessibility and affordability,” Virginia Labor Secretary Megan Healy said.
Community colleges will receive a performance payment per eligible student receiving the grant that completes 30 credit hours. The school will also get an additional performance payment when the student earns an associate degree.
“It’s going to give students an opportunity to get training and gainful employment and earn a living wage,” Mickles told the Register & Bee. “I’m looking forward to what this G3 initiative will do for people in Danville and the state of Virginia.”