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W.Va. community college bill is back again

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The top priority of the state Senate, a bill meant to provide greater access to community college, has passed its first hurdle.

Senate Bill 1 unanimously passed the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday afternoon, but it still has a long way to go.

The bill is also referenced to the Senate Finance Committee before it even hits the full Senate.

None of those stops are likely to be problems for the bill, which passed the Senate overwhelmingly last year.

But last year’s version stalled out in the House of Delegates. That’s where there’s a chance it could get stuck again.

Sarah Armstrong Tucker, chancellor of West Virginia’s community colleges, is an advocate for the bill.

“My elevator pitch for the House is that we just did an economic development study of the community and technical colleges, and an individual who earns a one-year certificate at a community college earns almost $17,000 more annually than an individual who has just a high school degree,” she said.

“It’s a great investment for our state, it’s a great return on investment for the students and it’s a great return on investment for the taxpayer.”

The bill would provide funding to pay off a career and technical college student’s tuition balance. It has sometimes been the “last dollar ‘in” bill.

One of its goals is to encourage students to receive the vocational or technical training they may need for emerging jobs in industries such as natural gas, chemical manufacturing or healthcare.

Two people with firsthand experience briefly testified Tuesday afternoon before the Senate Education Committee.

Deb Harris is a counselor at BridgeValley Community and Technical College, and Billy Eggleston is a nursing student.

“I would be fully in favor and hope that it passes,” Harris said. “I think it would bring nothing but good things to the state in regards to retention for community colleges and also create jobs requiring people to stay in the state after graduation and completion.”

Harris is a community college graduate whose job means she works with low-income, nontraditional, first-generation students.

“I think that population in particular could benefit from this bill,” Harris said, adding that financial aid can be limited for such students.

Eggleston also contended students would benefit.

“It would bear the load for a lot of people,” he said. “If I could have any more responsibility taken off of me, it would just open up more doors for success in studies.”

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