Since 1962, Dabney S. Lancaster Community College (DSLCC) has provided opportunities that were previously unavailable to our region. Embracing a philosophy based on the value of readily accessible higher education, we have opened doors to better futures for many thousands of students. In the process of helping students meet their educational and career goals, DSLCC also has addressed the needs of employers for trained workers and played a key role in fostering economic development.
While DSLCC is proud of a record of accomplishment of sustained success over the decades, we also realize that more work remains to be done. Despite the availability of a number of support programs, too many Virginians face financial barriers that prevent college attendance. At the same time, employers throughout the region — and across the Commonwealth --struggle to find and maintain the workforce needed to compete in a global economy.
To bring a new approach to tackling these problems, a groundbreaking proposal by Gov. Ralph Northam is now being considered by the Virginia General Assembly. The G3 initiative (Get a Skill, Get a Job, Give Back) would provide tuition and other support for low-income and middle-income Virginians to attend any of the state’s two-year colleges. To qualify, students would be required first to apply for federal and state financial aid programs for which they may be eligible. They would enroll in specified high-demand programs within five targeted career areas: Healthcare, Information Technology, Manufacturing and Skilled Trades, Early Childhood Education, and Public Safety. To remain eligible upon enrollment, students would need to maintain satisfactory academic progress and fulfill required hours of work experience, community service, or public service.
I realize that even in prosperous times, resources are not unlimited. In the case of the G3 initiative, I believe the long-term return on investment would be significant. For individuals, it would offer an affordable pathway to in-demand careers. Many of the students served would likely come from the population known as ALICE® (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). This group comprises those who hold down jobs and earn more than the official federal poverty level, but less than the basic cost of living. For them, the chance to gain the credentials needed for higher paying jobs could be life changing. For businesses and other organizations, G3 would provide badly needed workers in areas where labor shortages now exist.
Certainly, the economy as a whole would benefit from an increase in productive citizens contributing to the tax base (it is estimated that completers of G3 programs would pay up to 60 percent more in state taxes than in their current low-wage jobs). And a higher level of competitiveness for employers would benefit everyone.
As the 2020 General Session continues and decisions are made regarding this promising legislation, the Local Board, faculty, staff, and students of DSLCC urge support from not only our legislators, but also from anyone who would like to see DSLCC bring forth this bold new plan.