Piedmont Virginia Community College will offer free tuition and fees in the coming school year for most of its students, school officials announced Monday.
The financial aid will be paid for through a combination of federal stimulus money, state-approved financial support, PVCC funds and donor-supported scholarship programs. Enough funding exists to support free tuition for at least the upcoming fall and spring semesters.
“It will be the most comprehensive program we’ve ever offered,” PVCC President Frank Friedman said. “For eligible students, and that will be most of our students, 100% of tuition and fees will be covered.”
A three-credit course costs about $500 at PVCC. A full load of courses, about 15 credit hours, costs about $2,500 per semester.
“It is really a great opportunity for people in our community to start their college education, get back into their college education or finish up their college education by taking advantage of this program,” Friedman said. “I encourage people to take as many credit hours as they can while it’s free. We’d love it if students would take 12 credits or 15 credits.”
The eligibility standards are straightforward. Students must be Virginia residents or eligible for in-state tuition. They must take at least six credit hours per semester to be eligible, though the program will cover up to 15 credit hours. They must fill out a financial aid application.
Students who earn at least a 2.0 grade point average will be eligible for free tuition and fees for spring semester, as well.
“Many of our students are part-time and we wanted to make this program available to them. We don’t know if the program will continue next year. We’d love to extend it, but it will depend on federal funding to determine if we can,” Friedman said.
The program, dubbed PVCC4U 100%, is reserved for students with family income of less than $100,000 in the prior year or who were laid off or furloughed due to the pandemic.
“We know that COVID-19 has hit an awful lot of people very hard, besides the health impacts,” Friedman said. “So many have lost their jobs or been furloughed and many of those jobs will not come back because businesses have closed. Many are looking at starting over. The way to prepare for the future is to get into an education program and get the skills that employees want.”
Friedman said the program covers nearly every educational opportunity at the college, including transferring to a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree.
The tuition program comes on the heels of a statewide survey of community college students that found 32% dealt with food insecurity in the previous 30 days, meaning they were not always sure from where they’d get their next meal.
The survey also said 42% of students at the state’s 23 community colleges had worried about housing security in the previous year and 10% had been without a home.
“Even before COVID-19, we knew many of our students had to overcome non-academic barriers to their success,” said Virginia Community College System Chancellor Glenn DuBois. “The numbers are sobering, but it’s important that we have a realistic picture of the challenges that students face, so we can try to help wherever and whenever we can.”
Friedman said PVCC students fit within the survey’s findings and that college officials are aware that, for many, the barrier to returning to school is money.
“We decided this is the time for PVCC to step up to the plate,” he said. “We think this program is the right program at the right time.”
The money is coming from four funding sources. Federal funds come from Pell grants and stimulus money approved by Congress in the past year. State funds coming through the G-3 program, which is designed to provide education in trades, will be used whenever applicable.
The school is also ponying up.
“We’re adding in our own budgetary funds and foundation funds that we raise from generous donors who support student scholarships,” Friedman said. “The combination of those four sources will cover all of the tuition and fees for everything from academic courses, degree courses, certificates and workforce development.”
The pandemic, he said, has pushed even community colleges out of the price range of many.
“We recognized that is a very unique circumstance coming out of the pandemic. A lot of people for whom college would have been affordable a year or two ago are in different financial shape and it is no longer affordable,” Friedman said.
“We sat down and said what can we do about this? This is the program we came up,” he said. “We hope hundreds or even thousands of our local people will take advantage of this opportunity while we can offer it.”