One of West Virginia’s most persistent problems is a chronic shortage of skilled workers. A number of factors contribute to this.
West Virginia has an older, less healthy population. Our opioid crisis is taking people out of the workforce because of their addiction. Young West Virginians can easily get their education here and then move out-of-state.
Also, because we are a poor state, it can be harder for people who want to work to get the necessary training. That’s why Governor Justice’s proposal to provide more financial aid for students attending community and technical colleges is a good idea.
SB 284 is being called the “last dollar in” bill because it would fill in the financial gap for students whose scholarships and grants do not cover the full cost of tuition at community and technical colleges.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael is all in on the proposal. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and now is awaiting action in the House.
These two-year institutions (West Virginia has nine of them) provide practical training for existing jobs in the state. According to the Community and Technical College System’s budget proposal, “The colleges meet quarterly with regional companies in each sector (e.g. health care, manufacturing) to assess their workforce needs.”
One of the best examples of that partnership is found in Berkeley County. Even before Procter & Gamble broke ground on their new manufacturing facility, it began working with Blue Ridge Community and Technical College to map out a plan to train future employees.
The CTCs have also implemented fast track programs where students can get a certification or associate degree in just one year for the fields of chemical operator, electromechanical instrumentation, engineering design technology, gas measurement technology, information technology, mechatronics (a combination of mechanical engineering and electronics), and welding.
Many of the students at the CTCs are non-traditional. The average age is 29 and over half attend part-time because they can’t afford to go full-time or they have a job, but want to improve their skills. Notably, 92 percent of the CTC students are West Virginians and a whopping 71 percent of those who graduate quickly find work here.
The “last dollar in” bill includes a provision that students must maintain a 2.0 GPA while in school and pass a drug test at the start of each semester. Additionally, the student would be required to pay back the scholarship money if they move out of state within two years of graduating.
The estimated cost is modest–$8 million dollars a year. That represents 15 percent of the total state budgeted amount for CTCs and just two percent of the total higher education budget. That’s a manageable amount.
But, more importantly, it is a legitimate investment in improving the state’s workforce while providing critical help for West Virginians who are willing to make the effort to improve their lives.