How can we help more West Virginians go to college? How can we help them reach their career dreams? How can we strengthen our statewide workforce and economy? These are questions state leaders have faced and tackled for years, and a significant solution emerged with the Legislature’s passage and Governor Jim Justice’s approval in early 2019 of West Virginia Invests – a new grant program that covers tuition and eligible fees for students pursuing associate or certificate degrees in the state.
“Only one-third of our state’s population has the training they need beyond high school, yet three-quarters of jobs in our current economy require postsecondary education or training,” said Sarah Armstrong Tucker, Chancellor of the West Virginia Community and Technical College System, which manages West Virginia Invests. “Our Legislature and Governor recognized how critical it is for our state to fill this gap with the passage of this program, and West Virginians today are benefiting in a big way from their vision and investment.”
After the program application first launched in April 2019, nearly 1,200 students received $3.2 million for the 2019-20 academic year. The application remains open year-round – at wvinvests.org – for students of any age, from recent high school graduates to working adults interested in retraining, who want to pursue careers that are in high-demand fields across the Mountain State. West Virginia Invests is a last-dollar-in grant program, meaning that students use other federal and/or state grant awards first, with this program covering the remaining tuition and eligible fee costs for qualifying academic programs.
“Here in West Virginia, a community college education is powerful. It opens the door to high-demand jobs. It allows people to earn credentials close to home. It’s adaptable to their busy schedules. It’s in sync with industry needs so graduates have jobs waiting on them. It can lead to further postsecondary education, from four-year degrees and beyond. And, thanks to this forward-looking commitment by the state, it’s now more affordable than ever before,” Chancellor Tucker said.
All of West Virginia’s nine community and technical colleges participate in West Virginia Invests, with locations in every region of the state, serving West Virginians no matter where they live. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, these schools have transitioned to online formats for general education courses for the fall 2020 semester, while technical training classes will be held in-person with appropriate health and safety precautions in place.
To qualify for West Virginia Invests, a student must:
- have been a legal resident of the state for at least one year before applying;
- have graduated high school or passed a high school equivalency test;
- have not already earned a college degree;
- make a commitment to live in West Virginia for at least two years after graduation;
- complete at least two hours of unpaid community service each academic term;
- register for at least six credit hours each semester;
- maintain a cumulative GPA of at least 2.0 on all coursework completed;
- complete a FAFSA each year; and,
- pay for and pass a drug screening before the start of each academic term.
Online at wvinvests.org under the “apply now” tab, applicants will find a link to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – the required first step in this process – as well as the West Virginia Invests application. Students must complete a FAFSA prior to applying for the grant.
Full lists of eligible programs at each of West Virginia’s community and technical college are also available on the website. These programs were approved by the West Virginia Department of Commerce to align with specific high-demand career fields across the Mountain State, with flexibility to change over time as the state’s workforce needs evolve.
“These eligible academic programs represent high-demand fields, so our students are earning their credentials for the careers that matter in West Virginia,” Chancellor Tucker said. “From allied health fields and computer science to electric utility and welding technologies, these are the programs that lead to real jobs – and allow our graduates to continue living, working and raising their families in the Mountain State.”