CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WOWK) – The first group of students to go to college for free using the West Virginia Invests grant program just finished up their first semester.
“A lot of our citizens in West Virginia think going to college is an impossible task but it is not,” said WV Community and Technical College System Chancellor and interim Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker.
The West Virginia Invests program aims to grow a workforce trained to do the jobs available in the Mountain State by breaking down the barrier of cost.
“I think the idea of the word free itself just sparked their interest more,” Tucker said.
The program offers qualifying students free tuition and fees for in-demand certificate and associates degree programs at community and technical colleges in West Virginia.
“Our community college enrollment has increased by 5% this fall compared to the national average of community college enrollment has trended down,” Tucker said. “So we are ahead of the curve and we are very excited for that.” She said enrollment of first-time freshmen in the state’s nine community and technical colleges increased 9.9% from fall of last year to fall of this year.
“The idea that we could increase that college-going rate from 55 to 58 or 60 percent will do significant good not just for the individuals we are talking about but also the state’s economy,” Tucker said. According to initial reports, the vast majority of West Virginia Invests students were under 24 years old. The top selected programs were nursing and health sciences.
“We talk to high school students about every couple of years and ask them what is the number one reason you don’t go to college and every single time the number one reason students don’t go to college is because of fear of the cost of attendance. So the idea that this grant could help them know that they can go to college for free will do significant returns for our state,” she said.
Overall the state’s college-going rate is 55 percent which is about 10 percent behind the national average. It is a trend they hope to turn around as the program continues.
Pierpont and Bridge Valley Community and Technical Colleges had the most students enrolled through the West Virginia Invests program.