The Bulletin

$880 million pitch to General Assembly aims to match students and careers

By: - October 15, 2021 2:04 pm
A storm passes over the Capitol. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury - Sept. 11, 2018)

A storm passes over the Capitol. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury – Sept. 11, 2018)

A group of business and higher education leaders are pushing an $880 million proposal to make Virginia public colleges and universities more affordable and help industries facing worker shortages fill jobs.

The $880 million Growth4VA proposal, developed by the Virginia Business Higher Education Council, is split into two different categories: $300 million for career development and $580 million for financial aid for both students and institutions. 

Business leaders at a rollout event Thursday stressed the importance of the General Assembly making the investment in the 2022 legislative session, citing the rare opportunity to use a budget surplus, unallocated federal relief funds and growing state revenues. Earlier this year,Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation that offers free community college tuition to students who go into high-demand fields.

“There’s no question in my mind that there’s a will in the General Assembly and in both the candidates for governor, as well as Governor Northam, to do this,” said Don Finley, president of Virginia Business Higher Education Council.  

The proposal, which envisions tax credits for employers and aid for students and interns, highlights the need to allocate $300 million toward increasing degrees in career fields that need more workers, such as health care and middle-skill jobs. Starting partnerships between businesses and higher-education institutions to provide internships for students is also essential to the future of Virginia’s economy, according to the proposal. 

“When educators and employers in an industry or region collaborate to develop career-focused pathways, they align curricula so graduates gain the education and skills employers need, and they provide students with paid internships and other applied learning experiences that prepare them for the workplace, often supplying connections that lead to full-time employment,” the plan says.

Community colleges would also benefit from the proposal as part of the goal of amplifying access to education and career development. 

“We want every Virginian to have the opportunity for a paid internship or other work-based learning experience with a Virginia employer,” said Dennis Treacy, chair of the council and Growth4VA.

Despite Virginia’s commitment in 2011 to fund two thirds of the educational cost for in-state students, the state falls behind neighboring states like North Carolina, which spent $10,742 per student in 2020 compared to Virginia’s $6,519 investment. 

“This [proposal] would put Virginia clearly in the lead, and that’s the kind of thing our group is excited about,” Treacy said.

The investment proposals were outlined by Nancy Howell Agee, the council’s vice-chair and Clifford Fleet, the council’s board member. Both Agee and Fleet said their groups would work with elected officials and education leaders to further develop the proposal through detailed budget provisions and measurable goals. 

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Jackie Llanos Hernandez
Jackie Llanos Hernandez

Jackie Llanos Hernandez was a Virginia Mercury intern while studying journalism and anthropology at University of Richmond. Jackie grew up in Colombia before moving to Virginia. Jackie is also the investigative and multimedia editor at the independent student-run newspaper, The Collegian.