Virginia’s community colleges are losing students. Can free tuition bring them back?

Known as G3 — “Get a Skill, Get a Job, Get Ahead” — it covers the cost of community college for low- and middle-income students in high-demand fields.
By: | May 3, 2022

The number of students at Virginia’s community colleges has plummeted by almost 50,000 in the past decade. Historically, community college enrollment increases when the economy dips. But when the pandemic arrived, wreaking havoc on businesses, enrollment kept falling anyway. The head of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia called it “unprecedented.”

Following a national trend, the number of students has cratered because of rising minimum wage, competition from four-year schools and the ever-increasing cost of higher education. At Virginia’s 23 community colleges, the student headcount has decreased 25% in the past 10 years.

Experts worry about jobs going unfilled and the workforce earning lower wages because of the decline. The drop even led to a tussle between the governor and the State Board for Community Colleges regarding the hiring of its next chancellor.

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