by Adnan Bokhari, a member of Virginia’s State Board of Community Colleges since 2018 and the Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer of Prosperity Now, a national nonprofit fighting economic inequality in the US. He has been living in Virginia since 1994 and currently resides in Arlington.
In December 2019, Governor Northam unveiled his signature “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” Initiative (“G3”), which makes community college free of cost for low- and middle-income students seeking employment in high-demand sectors such as information technology, manufacturing and skilled trades, healthcare, early childhood education and public safety.
G3 is intentionally designed to help address several economic and social challenges of our time including the skills gap, racial inequity, debt burden, income disparity and financial security in a fiscally responsible way.
- Skills Gap – Over the next six years, there will be 2.6 million jobs to fill that require more than a high school diploma but less than a 4-year college degree.
- Racial Inequity – While overall unemployment rate of 2.8% is below the national average of 3.7%, unemployment among black households is twice that much of white households. Furthermore, 6% of the state’s population is underemployed and almost 1 in 5 Virginians are working low-wage jobs (jobs that pay below the poverty line).
- Debt Burden – Virginia ranks among top 10 states for college completion rates but ranks in the bottom 10 for college debt burden.
- Income Disparities and Financial Insecurity – The disparities in household income are high with or without regard to race, and 4 out of 10 Virginians are unable to make ends meet despite earning wages above the poverty line.
What is the G3 Initiative?
G3 has three major components: Skills, Jobs and Service which accelerates the college to workplace to community pathway. It meets students where they are and helps them quickly develop skills that employers are looking for right now so enrollees can start earning an income even as they develop higher level skills. The program also requires a community engagement pledge requiring certain number of community service hours per semester.
G3 is a thoughtfully designed inclusive policy that offers the following unique features that lower barriers for underrepresented and disadvantaged communities:
- Higher income threshold: 400 percent of Federal Poverty Line
- Age restrictions: None
- Low GPA requirement: Minimum 2.0
- Multiple pathways: Students may enroll in Fast Forward short-term credentials, certificates or Associates degree in any of the high-demand fields
- Last dollar funding: filling the gap between what financial aid pays and the full cost of program including tuition, fees, and books
G3 builds on lessons from other states with parts that are unique but also parts that are proven. Similar programs that make community colleges more affordable and accessible have been implemented in several states across the country, 23 so far. These programs have generally been impactful. Six out of the top 10 ranked states in economy and workforce offer some type of free community college. In Virginia, the G3 initiative is projected to increase wages by 60% for those enrolled, double the salaries for healthcare graduates, and double the amount of taxes they pay.
G3 is a sensible program for which the credit goes to the Governor’s team as well. The combined leadership of Chief Workforce Advisor Megan Healy, Secretary of Education Atif Qarni and Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne has been key to this initiative. Also noteworthy are the efforts of Chancellor Glenn Dubois, his team, and my colleagues on the State Board. Virginia’s 23 Community Colleges have already been directed by the State Board for Community Colleges to begin preparations to implement the program and make more information available by April 2020.
Governor Northam’s proposed budget includes $145 million for the G3 initiative. For now, the future of G3 depends on the General Assembly. I sincerely hope they will see the benefits of this program for Virginia’s families and join the Governor in support of it.