While some states offer “free college” or “free community college” to build a skilled workforce, Virginia is funding vocational credentials, writes Anne Kim in the Washington Monthly.
Allen Miller works full-time while studying for vocational credentials in asphalt technology.
Virginia’s New Economy Workforce Credential Grant is the first in the country to help pay for non-college-credit occupational credentials, Sara Dunnigan, executive director of the state’s Board of Workforce Development, told Kim.
Trainees need the help because they’re not eligible for federal student aid, such as Pell Grants, if they’re not earning college credits.
Allen Miller, 31, works 12 hours a day at Cedar Mountain Stone, then takes classes in “asphalt technology” at night at a nearby community college.
He’s not going for a degree. When he completes his four-year apprenticeship he’ll earn a journeyman’s license in industrial maintenance and certifications in “asphalt technology” from the Virginia Asphalt Association. “Though he makes just $35,000 a year as an apprentice, his salary could jump to near six figures once he finishes his training,” writes Kim.
His employer is paying for Miller’s college classes with help from a state grant.
Under the new program, which will cost $20 million over two years, the state picks up two-thirds of the cost of acquiring non-degree workplace credentials, such as the asphalt technology certifications Miller will receive, as well as commercial drivers’ licenses, IT certifications and other industry-recognized certificates, certifications and licenses from a list approved by the state. Students pay one-third of costs to ensure they have “skin in the game,” and training programs only get their grant monies if students complete their coursework and pass the licensing or other exams necessary to receive their credential.
Most respondents to the survey said their last postsecondary certificate was very or somewhat useful in helping them get a job or increase their pay. Work experience programs also were useful, most said.