‘Free’ Community and Technical College Bill is Back and On the Move

Jan 15, 2019

Senators in the Senate Education Committee Tuesday unanimously approved Senate Bill 1 -- “Increasing access to career education and workforce training.”

SB 1 is this year’s version of what was known in 2018 as the “free” community and technical college bill. Last year’s bill had bipartisan support, and passed in the Senate, but later died in the House Education Committee.

“This bill [is] very near and dear to my heart,” said Deb Harris, a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, coordinator for BridgeValley Community and Technical College.

Deb Harris, a TANF coordinator for BridgeValley CTC, speaking before senators on behalf of SB 1. Jan. 15, 2019.
Credit Will Price / WV Legislative Photography

Speaking before the committee, Harris, a single mom and BridgeValley graduate, said she sees students struggling to put food on the table.

“And what this bill would mean to them would be less [stress] having to do all of that,” she said. “They could just come to school and get their education and graduate with that degree and find a career and provide for their families.”

The bill would create an $8 million grant program to cover tuition and fees at community and technical colleges for students to tap into after all other forms of financial aid has been exhausted.

To be eligible, a student would need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), be at least 18-years-old with a high school diploma or equivalent, pass a drug screening, and agree to remain in the state as a taxpayer for at least two years after graduation and fulfill some community service.

On Tuesday, Senate Education considered a near-replica of last year’s bill, but with a couple changes.

The new bill provides opportunities for younger students to participate in advanced technical programs. Under SB 1, ACE programs (Advanced Career Education) would be amended to allow middle school-aged students to participate. The program currently provides high school graduates with the opportunity to enter an advanced technical program of study for targeted industries.

A section of the bill was clarified to ensure it would include and represent all community and technical colleges in West Virginia. No other amendments were considered in committee.

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration and will require a vote by both the full Senate and House.