CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than 700 applications have already been submitted for the West Virginia Invests Grant Program, the “last dollar in” financial assistance available for the first time to students in certain degree programs beginning this fall.

As of Wednesday, 238 certificate and associate degree programs at nine community and technical programs tailored to in-demand hiring areas were listed at with direct links to schools like Eastern Community and Technical College in Hardy County.

“I think it’s great economic development strategy for the state,” said Dr. Chuck Terrell, Eastern’s president, of WV Invests.

Depending on location, there were qualifying certificate and associate degree programs in areas of business, education, energy, health and information technology among others.

Those with the Community and Technical College System worked with the state Department of Commerce on economic modeling to address local workforce needs.

Earlier this week, Dr. Sarah Tucker, chancellor for the state Community and Technical College System and interim chancellor for the Higher Education Policy Commission, told lawmakers that, at least initially, nursing programs were the most popular for applicants statewide.

There’s usually a nursing wait list at Eastern CTC where 20 students are selected for a cohort every two years. The next nursing class begins there in Fall 2020.

Most graduates stay in the area, according to Terrell.

Many have gone on to work at Grant Memorial Hospital, Valley Health or local nursing homes while others have continued their nursing educations.

“We need additional nurses in our area, but we are restricted by the number of faculty required,” Terrell explained.

Dr. Chuck Terrell

“If we were going to run additional cohorts, we would have to acquire additional faculty and that only increases the costs.”

Eastern Community and Technical College, located in Moorefield, is the smallest of West Virginia’s community and technical colleges with fewer than 1,000 students enrolled annually.

Along with the already-posted CTC programs for Eastern and other schools, additional qualifying programs from four-year higher institutions were expected to be added later to the WV Invests website which launched last week.

Chancellor Tucker said the early website traffic numbers were strong despite little promotion thus far.

“That tells me that the people of the State of West Virginia are looking for hope, that the people of the State of West Virginia are looking for jobs and are looking for training programs that’ll get them in,” she said at the State Capitol.

Through WV Invests, state-funded grants will used for any remaining amount up to the total cost of basic tuition and fees that isn’t already covered by other state or federal grants or scholarships.

President Terrell said that should encourage students to consider all of the available options.

“One of the things that we’ve experienced is a lot of parents and students don’t typically look at the financial aid as an opportunity,” he said.

Participants in WV Invests must meet the following requirements:

– Legal residency in West Virginia for at least one year immediately before applying;
– Graduation from a public, private or homeschool program or passage of a high school equivalency test;
– No prior earned college degrees (associate level or higher);
– Commitment to live in West Virginia for at least two years after graduation and completion of at least two hours of unpaid community service each academic term;
– Meeting minimum admissions requirements at an eligible institution and registration for at least six credit hours;
– Payment and passage of a drug screening before the start of each academic term.

WV Invests was created in SB 1 which the Legislature passed and Governor Jim Justice signed into law earlier this year.

“This is the way government should work,” said Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson, 04), the lead sponsor of the legislation, while praising the work of Tucker and her team.

“This didn’t take ‘government time’ to do it. This was done at the speed of the business, less than two months after the end of the legislative session, and we see this significant impact on people’s lives that will change their lives,” he said.