Northam Announces Proposal to Make Higher Education Less Expensive for Virginians

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Gov. Northam’s announcement last week would allocate $111 million from the American Rescue Plan funding to make college more affordable for Virginians. (Courtesy of Ekrulila by Pexels)

STATEWIDE — A new announcement from the governor’s office could possibly make higher education a more fiscally affordable dream for many Virginians.

Last week, Governor Ralph Northam visited Virginia Tech where he announced that the Commonwealth plans to use $111 million in American Rescue Plan funding to increase access to financial aid for low- and moderate-income undergraduate students. 

This announcement is part of a series of proposals to allocate the $4.3 billion in federal funds available to the Commonwealth from the American Rescue Plan. In advance of the August 2nd special session, Governor and legislative leaders are highlighting proposals for improvement projects from education to infrastructure to unemployment insurance.

According to a July 29 news release from the Office of the Governor, the proposal designates $100 million for public higher education institutions through the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, and $11 million for private institutions eligible for the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant program.

“The economic uncertainty of this pandemic has led many to question whether a college degree was still an affordable reality,” said Governor Northam in a released statement. “Increasing access to financial aid will help create more equitable pathways to opportunity and put a world-class education within reach of even more students.”

“In order for Virginia to be the best-educated state in the nation, we must continue to invest in financial aid and improve access to affordable higher education,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni in a released statement. “It is critical that we dedicate federal relief funds to build on our past investments in financial assistance and bolster our education and talent pipelines.”

This proposed investment supplements more than $833 million that will be made available to Virginia colleges and universities through the American Rescue Plan Act’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III. These funds will be received directly by institutions of higher education and must be used for financial assistance for students as well as for qualifying institutional purposes.

“Over the last year, we saw students delay or pause their pursuit of higher education during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Delegate Betsy Carr, Chair of the House Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee, in a released statement. “This funding signals our dedication to ensuring that students in need of financial aid are able to access it, especially as we confront the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The proposal also commits $10 million to enhance the Online Virginia Network, a program that facilitates online coursework and degrees from George Mason University, Old Dominion University, James Madison University, and community colleges.

“Higher education faced numerous challenges over the past 16 months and it was an especially difficult time for our students,” said Timothy Sands, President of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in a released statement. “For many who were already facing financial strain, the impact of COVID-19 threatened to push their higher education dream out of reach.”

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