A helping hand
Grant program supports credentials in high-demand fields
Last year, Lynchburg resident Kouri Tweedy was juggling retail and fast-food jobs with no clear idea of what she wanted to do in the future. “I was ready for a career,” she says.
On a visit to a local Virginia Employment Commission office, Tweedy learned about a state-funded grant program that helps people who are seeking credentials in high-demand industries.
A counselor told her that with a grant and other financial aid, she could earn three health-care credentials at Central Virginia Community College for just $71 in out-of-pocket costs. “I was in disbelief,” says Tweedy.
Now she is a clinical medical assistant for Community Access Network in Lynchburg and has plans to earn an associate degree in nursing.
Started just a year ago, the state’s New Economy Workforce Credential Grant program already is paying dividends.
In the fiscal year that ended June 30, Virginia community colleges almost tripled the number of credentials, licenses and certifications awarded in high-demand fields covered by the grant.
During that time, Virginians earned 4,268 credentials in those fields. A year earlier, only 1,528 Virginians had earned those credentials.
“Our problem in Virginia is not jobs,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said at a July event at John Tyler Community College highlighting the program’s success. “Our problem in Virginia is we have too many high-paying jobs that are going unfilled.”
More than half of students earning credentials last year took advantage of the grant program. It was developed to fill jobs that require more than a high school education but less than a college degree.
Virginia is the first state in the country to offer a “pay for performance” workforce credential grant. The commonwealth awards the money only when the training program is completed and the student earns an industry-recognized credential. “So far, the completion rate for these credentials is north of 90 percent,” says Craig Herndon, vice chancellor for workforce development of the Virginia Community College System.
The grants pay for two-thirds of the cost of 146 credentials in high-demand industries, such as information technology, health care and logistics. Eligible programs vary by location, depending on the needs of employers, says Herndon.
The grants were created by 2015 General Assembly legislation. In the most recent fiscal year, the commonwealth appropriated $5 million for the program. That increases to $7.5 million in the current fiscal year.
The average cost of these programs range from $2,000 to $3,000 for in-state residents, with some programs costing as much as $4,500. “This is a tremendous help to our students,” says Keith Harkins, vice president of workforce development and continuing education at Southside Virginia Community College. “There’s no doubt that many students would have a difficult time paying for this if it were not for this workforce credential grant.”
A grant helped Nate Humphrey find the on-the-job camaraderie he had missed after 13 years in the U.S. Army. Humphrey, a retired disabled veteran who served seven combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, completed the power-line training program at Southside Virginia Community College. His costs were covered by the grant program and other financial aid.
Humphrey now is an apprentice line technician at Southside Electric Cooperative. The job can be challenging, requiring long hours in difficult conditions. “I was used to the brotherhood and the camaraderie I had in the Army,” says Humphrey. “We depend on the person to the left and right of you, and I was missing that.”