Standing at the iconic Pylons at the Drillfield on Virginia Tech’s campus, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that he planned to propose an additional $111 million in need-based financial aid for Virginia students when the General Assembly convenes in a special session on Aug. 2.

Flanked by Chris Hurst, a state delegate, and state Sen. John Edwards, both of whom represent districts that include Virginia Tech, Northam said he is proposing that the money come from the $4.3 billion in federal aid that Virginia received this past spring from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that passed in March. Northam called a special session of the General Assembly to allocate the funding from ARPA.

“Our administration, with legislators like Sen. Edwards and Del. Hurst, have made it a priority to invest in our education system, and in making it more accessible to every Virginian no matter who they are or where they’re from in the commonwealth,” Northam said. “When you are able to get a good education, you’re able to build the life that you want and that you deserve — and that door should not be closed to anybody because of affordability.”

Approximately $100 million from Northam’s proposal would be distributed to public institutions through the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and the remaining $11 million to private institutions through the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant. This money would be in addition to the $833 million that Virginia colleges and universities already have received in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III.

Provided the General Assembly approves Northam’s request, the additional funding would be welcome at Virginia’s public institutions, many of which have struggled financially through the COVID-19 pandemic and lacked the financial resources to offer additional financial aid. Approximately 40 percent of Virginia Tech’s students receive need-based financial aid.

The additional funding also would help the university toward its goal of having at least 40 percent of its student body consist of minorities, first-generation college students, and those from low-income households.

Gov. Ralph Northam
Gov. Ralph Northam talks with Virginia Tech Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke (center) and Corporate Research Center President and CEO Brett Malone (left) during Thursday's event. Photo by Ray Meese for Virginia Tech

“Higher education faced numerous challenges over the past 16 months, and it was an especially difficult time for our students,” Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said. “For many who were already facing financial strain, the impact of COVID threatened to push their higher education dream out of reach. We are grateful to the governor and general assembly for these additional funds to support financial aid at this critical time and for their continued investment in the future of our students and the commonwealth.”

Northam’s announcement came two weeks after CNBC rated Virginia as the No. 1 state for business for the second consecutive year. The commonwealth has won the award five times, and the network cited the state’s strong workforce and solid education system as primary reasons why.

Virginia Tech continues to play a prominent role in securing business investment in the state. For example, less than three years ago, the university’s $1 billion commitment to build the Innovation Campus in Arlington, Virginia, and its ability to provide graduates in computer science and related fields helped to sway Amazon — one of the world’s biggest companies — to build its corporate headquarters there.

“There is a lot of enthusiasm for businesses that want to come to Virginia, but the No. 1 priority that I hear every day is our talented workforce in Virginia that draws these businesses to want to be here,” Northam said. “We need to continue to do everything, and our administration is committed to it. Our legislature is committed to it. We need to invest in education to keep that pipeline open between open between our education systems and the business community.”

—    Written by Jimmy Robertson

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