Jason Ferguson has worked at Central Virginia Community College for 15 years and says now is the time to get a higher education because of all the opportunities for free certifications or even an associate’s degree.

“This is probably the most funding we’ve had available to students,” said Ferguson, who is associate vice president of Professional and Career Studies.

“As COVID hit us hard, we’re looking forward to economic recovery.”

Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation March 29, 2021, creating the “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” initiative, or “G3” program, which makes tuition-free community college available to low- and middle-income students who pursue jobs in high-demand fields. Key industries include health care, information technology and computer science, manufacturing and skilled trades, public safety, and early childhood education. On average, students in these high-demand degree programs increase their wages by 60 percent.

In addition to the G3 program, CVCC received a grant of $400,000 from the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board (GO Virginia) to assist in creating a Regional Career and Technical Education (CTE) Academy to serve the counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford, and Campbell and the City of Lynchburg. Programming will include a heavy concentration on four targeted industry sectors: manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, and the automation segment of the food and beverage sector.

Thanks to these new programs, students interested in other areas of study will have access to more scholarships and other funding sources, Ferguson noted. “We have a ton of programs both within and outside of these criteria,” he said.

While programs covered under G3, such as welding, machine tool, and EMT/Paramedic, are very popular, so are other programs including the culinary and hospitality program and business management, Ferguson said.

Because many programs have moved online due to COVID-19, Ferguson added that more students are interested in general studies to obtain their associate’s degrees more affordably than going to a four-year college or university. “Enrollment is up exponentially at this point compared to last year,” he said.

This is also a prime time to obtain credentials, which can be secured in a matter of weeks or months. Programs include phlebotomy, certified medical assistant, commercial driver’s license (CDL), and solar installer, a new program about to launch.

The G3 program includes $36 million to cover tuition, fees, and books and provides wraparound support for eligible students at Virginia’s two-year public institutions. The program helps students at the lowest income levels with expenses such as food, transportation, and child care. Students who qualify for a full federal Pell grant and enroll full time will receive incentive grants up to $900 per semester and up to $450 per summer term.

Initial eligibility for the G3 program is determined through the submission of applications for federal and state student financial aid, including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

The Regional Career and Technical Education (CTE) Academy will utilize additional state funding from February 2019, when CVCC was awarded a $267,000 planning grant. That grant supports two positions critical to the startup of the CTE academy for the two-year period of January 2021 through December 2022. The grant will be cash matched by $134,000 from the Central Virginia Planning District Commission for a total of $400,000.

CVCC recently hired Jason Clark as coordinator of academy operations and Scott Pleasants as coordinator of business engagement. Clark will work to expand and enhance the college’s CTE and FastForward program offerings, while Pleasants will work with CVCC partners in business, industry and secondary education to recruit students and to promote CTE learning. The grant funds will be managed by the CVCC Educational Foundation, which will serve as the fiscal agent for the grant.

The CTE academy will also work with regional public school systems to develop new and expanded dual enrollment opportunities. The academy plans to accept high school students, high school graduates, adult learners and under-employed/under-skilled workers to earn the credentials necessary for employment in the region.

The skills-based training provided by the CTE academy will enable students to not simply get a job, but to also obtain higher paying jobs. CVCC will work with these public school partners to bridge the gap between K-12 students and the local workforce to provide awareness of career opportunities early on.
“I can’t recall a time that we’ve had so much excitement to look forward to,” Ferguson said.