Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam proposed a $1.2 billion education package, including a $145 million tax-funded investment to make community college free for students from low- and middle-income households.
The new program, dubbed “G3”, for “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back,” is going to be a last-dollar scholarship, meaning that the state will pay only the balance of tuition leftover after the student uses all eligible forms of financial aid.
The plan provides funding for tuition, fees, and books. For students at the lowest income levels, it also provides support for expenses including childcare, transportation, and food. Applicants must be eligible for in-state tuition with and income less than or equal 400 percent of the federal poverty level or $103,000 for a family of four.
To remain eligible for the G3 program, participating students will have to complete two hours of community service for every hour of credit they have enrolled in, and maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA.
“Everyone deserves the opportunity to get a good education and a good job, no matter who you are or how much money you have,” Northam, a Democrat, said in a statement. “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.”
The G3 program is said to target Virginia’s specific industries in need of skilled workers, including healthcare, public safety, early childhood education, and information technology.
Endorsed by several Democratic presidential candidates, the idea of free tuition at public colleges is gaining popularity. Former Vice President Joe Biden called for 4 years of free college in 2015, although he has not talked about it in the recent debates. Elizabeth Warren proposes a $1.25 trillion education plan to eliminate not only tuition at public colleges but also millions of Americans’ student debt. Another Democratic forerunner, Bernie Sanders, promotes a more ambitious $1.6 trillion plan to erase college tuition as well as all student debt.
The effectiveness of free-college programs, however, is still up for debate. A 2018 study by the Institute for Higher Education Policy analyzed two state’s free-college programs, Tennessee and New York, and reported that most funding didn’t go to the low-income students whom the programs were designed to benefit. Another study by Federal Reserve Bank of New York also found that schools would end up increasing their tuition by 63 cents for every dollar increase in state-funded tuition.