Free college program holds promise for WV

May 8, 2019

The Exponent Telegram of Clarksburg, West Virginia, published this editorial on April 30 regarding a free community college program:

The state’s great experiment in free community and technical college has begun. Students are now able to apply for grant money that will cover tuition at some of the state’s community colleges.

The Community and Technical College System’s website launched last week, and prospective students can learn how they can take advantage of the program.

Applicants must first seek out other scholarships and grants, and then the balance is covered by the state program.

The grant does not cover the cost of books or special fees with certain courses and it does not cover all programs at community colleges.

The programs covered by the grant are for specific fields that have a high demand in the workplace right now.

“These eligible academic programs represent high-demand fields so our students are earning their credentials for the careers that matter in West Virginia,” said Sarah Tucker, chancellor for the state’s Community and Technical College System. “From allied health fields and computer science to electric utility and welding technologies, these are the programs that lead to real jobs — and allow our graduates to continue living, working and raising their families in the Mountain State.”

The program has some conditions: You must be a legal state resident for at least a year; you must have a high school diploma or equivalent; you must promise to live and work in West Virginia for at least two years after graduation; you must complete two hours of community service each semester.

In addition, the student must maintain a 2.0 GPA and must take a drug test before each academic term.

The conditions for free tuition are not, in our opinion, out of line. A free education is worth all the stipulations.

And while the grants do not pay for student housing or food, the bulk of those applying are going to be students who are living at home and likely holding down a job at the same time.

This new program comes after two years of efforts by the Legislature. To illustrate its importance, the bill passed both houses unanimously during this year’s regular session.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, who pushed the program through the legislative process, as well as his fellow lawmakers, should be applauded for putting in practical regulations while implementing a very valuable program.

By helping students get basically a free education and preparing them for key jobs in the marketplace, we stand to see an improved economy and we might help keep young people from moving to other states to make a living.

“It opens the door to high-demand jobs,” Tucker said. “It allows people to earn credentials close to home. It’s adaptable to their busy schedules. It’s in sync with industry needs, so graduates have jobs waiting on them. And, thanks to this forward-looking investment by the state, it’s now more affordable than ever before.”

This is a program that can make a big difference not only to our economy, but to people’s lives as well.

This is a grand experiment. We trust it will be successful.