New grant program helps growth of high-demand credentials earned in Virginia

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Print this page Jessica Sabbath
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Kouri Tweedy earned three credentials in the health-care field
under Virginia's new program.

A new grant program helped almost triple the number of credentials, licenses and certifications awarded in high-demand fields at Virginia’s community colleges last year.

In the 12 months ended June 30, Virginians earned 4,268 credentials for industries in high-demand jobs. A year earlier, 1,528 Virginians had earned those same credentials.

“Our problem in Virginia is not jobs,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Monday at John Tyler Community College’s Midlothian campus during an event promoting the growth of these credentials. “Our problem in Virginia is we have too many high-paying jobs that are going unfilled.”

More than half of students earning the credentials last year took advantage of the New Economy Workforce Credential Grant program.

The grants pay for two-thirds of the cost of 146 credentials in high-demand industries. Most of the credentials cost between $2,000 and $3,000, with some as much as $4,500.  “We need a lot of people who have industry-recognized certifications,” Craig Herndon, vice chancellor for workforce development of the Virginia Community College System, said in an interview. “Before, students were paying the whole cost, and they were being asked to write a check on day one.”

Virginia is the first state in the country to offer a “pay for performance” workforce credential, meaning Virginia only awards the money when the credential is completed. “So far the completion rate for these credentials is north of 90 percent,” Herndon said.

The grants were created by 2015 General Assembly legislation.  In the most recent fiscal year, the commonwealth included $5 million for the program. That increases to $7.5 million in the current 2018 fiscal year.

A number of students who earned credentials through the program attended Monday’s event.

The program helped Kouri Tweedy launch a career. Previously, the Lynchburg resident was working two part-time jobs in the fast food and retail industries.

“I was ready for a career,” Tweedy said.

Through the grant program and additional financial aid, Tweedy paid $71 out-of-pocket to earn three credentials in the health-care industry. It took her four months to complete her studies.

Now she is a clinical medical assistant for Community Access Network in Lynchburg and has plans to earn a two-year degree in nursing. “I love the fact that we treat all patients,” Tweedy said. “I love helping others.”

Harrisonburg resident Andrea Davis also benefited from the new program. Following a prison sentence for drug charges, she was working in a poultry plant when she saw a flier advertising Virginia’s new grant program.

She earned her commercial driver’s license, a $4,500 program, at Blue Ridge Community College in 30 days. She now works full time for Western Express, transporting cargo to major retail stores up and down the East Coast.

“I didn’t have to go through a two-or four-year program,” Davis said on Monday. “I feel like if I can do it, anybody can do it. I think it’s the best option for felons and people who are struggling to get on their feet.”

Nate Humphrey, a former Army ranger, participated in the power-line training program at Southside Virginia Community College in Alberta, earning multiple credentials. His costs were covered by the grant program and other financial aid.

He now is an apprentice line technician for Southside Electric Cooperative.

That job has provided him the camaraderie and brotherhood he misses from the Army. Power-line workers often work in tough conditions. “So no matter what it is, you’re always depending on the person on the left and right of you,” Humphrey said. “It’s fast-paced; it’s hard work; and that’s what I enjoy about it.”

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