According to Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown University, our nation’s foremost expert on education and the workforce, 28% of the jobs in this country in 1973 required some postsecondary education. Today it is 65% of the jobs. Half of those jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or higher; the other half will require a postsecondary industry certification or a college certificate or associate degree.
Unfortunately, only 45% of adult Virginians have completed a postsecondary credential. This means that we will likely face shortages of welders, electricians, certified nurse assistants, truck drivers, health-care technicians (radiographers, diagnostic medical sonographers, registered nurses, etc.), early childhood educators, first responders, cybersecurity experts and many other positions. In fact, we are already experiencing shortages in many of those fields.
What can be done to attract more people to postsecondary education? One reason that people do not enroll in college, despite wanting to, is money. Postsecondary education is expensive. Even at my institution, Piedmont Virginia Community College, which has the lowest tuition and fees of any postsecondary option in Central Virginia, we hear from so many individuals who say that they want to enroll, to get a skill, to get a better job, to make more money, but they can’t afford it.
But there is hope. Gov. Ralph Northam has proposed in his 2020-2021 budget an initiative called G3: Get a Skill, Get a Job, Give Back. The G3 program makes a community college education more affordable for low-to middle-income families with students seeking employment in high-demand sectors such as technology, skilled trades, health care, early childhood education and public safety.
G3 is a “last dollar” financial aid program. This means that G3 will make up the difference between what other sources of financial aid pay and the cost of tuition, fees and books at the community college. This is a visionary program that will enable thousands of Virginians every year to enroll in a community college and acquire the skills and credentials that will lead to a middle-class life for their family.
G3 is the right thing to do. It will help many individuals acquire the skills to move from a job paying $10 per hour with no benefits to one paying $20 per hour with benefits. This will make a drastic difference in the quality of life for those individuals and their families.
It is also the smart thing to do. It is a much-needed investment in our future workforce that will ensure that there are well-trained nurse assistants to care for our loved ones in long-term care facilities, highly qualified preschool teachers to educate our children, and highly skilled technicians to manufacture goods and repair our heating systems and electronic devices.
Today G3 is a proposal by the governor. In the next month, it will be debated by the General Assembly, which will determine if it will become a part of the state budget.
If you care about making higher education accessible to more Virginians, especially low income and minority Virginians, and if you believe in investing in the Virginia workforce, I urge you to contact your delegate and senator in the General Assembly and ask them to support G3.
Dr. Frank Friedman is president of Piedmont Virginia Community College.