Want to Go to College for Free? There’s a Program in Virginia for That.

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By Amie Knowles

September 28, 2021

Here’s what you need to know about Virginia’s G3 program, which covers the cost of tuition, fees, and books for eligible students. 

MARTINSVILLE—If you had the opportunity to take your career and life to the next level in just four weeks, would you take it?

In March, Gov. Ralph Northam announced the G3 plan, which stands for Get a Skill, Get a Job, Get Ahead. Now, Virginia residents who qualify for in-state tuition and whose family income is less than or equal to 400% of the Federal Poverty Level have the opportunity to go to college free of charge. 

The program spans education in five in-demand career paths, including early childhood education, health care, information technology, public safety, and skilled trades. 

Students in the Martinsville area jumped at the opportunity. Patrick & Henry Community College (P&HCC) currently has the highest G3 rates on the workforce side—that’s the skilled trades portion of the program—among all the community colleges in Virginia.

On the Road to Success

One of P&HCC’s G3 students is Tarniscah White, a 38-year-old mother of two teens. She recently started the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant program. She first started working toward a career in the medical field in 2013, but was unable to finish due to other responsibilities.

Seven years later, the Martinsville area mom decided to put herself first and pursue the career she always wanted. She signed up for classes and went to school. White’s dreams and ambitions are now center stage—even though she’s faced challenges along the way.

“Don’t get me wrong—it’s been a journey,” White said. “And even when I thought I was in over my head, I pushed on.”

She said that moving forward with the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant program will help her reach her goal of working in the medical field. And that’s thanks to G3 funding.

“The main benefit was the class is practically hand-wrapped as a gift to you,” White said. “It was based on a scale, and I appreciated that so much because this way, it has all the curriculum in sections online and in-class, but at a faster pace. But you have access to help if you need it.” 

G3’s Impact

Even though this is the community college’s first time offering G3 funding, it’s already seeing an impact.

“Two out of every five students that have been awarded G3 in the Virginia Community College System are new to the Virginia Community College System,” said Rhonda Hodges, P&HCC’s vice president of workforce, economic and community development. “So, you know, that’s what we want. We want students coming in all the time, taking advantage of the programs that we have so they can get on a really great career pathway.” 

Want to Go to College for Free? There’s a Program in Virginia for That.

For many of those students, financial barriers are no longer a factor in getting a college education. For example, 94% of students in P&HCC’s 2021 Fast Forward program attend free of charge. FastForward is a short-term workforce training program that helps equip Virginians with industry credentials and certifications for in-demand jobs across the commonwealth.

“They can have everything covered. Tuition, books—you know, every last dollar for academic programs,” Hodges said. “It can also assist where there may also be some other funding assistance. It can come in and cover any costs that are leftover for our Fast Forward programs. It covers [those programs] fully, as long as they are approved in those fields.” 

Hodges added that the outcome of these targeted efforts to help more people get quality training without financial burden is huge: Currently, Martinsville has a poverty rate of nearly 24%

“These are all high-demand, for the most part high-wage, fields and career pathways. And so [students are] going to come out, no debt, be able to go into a great career, start making really good money right away,” Hodges said. “It’s just been a tremendous impact.”

“It’s not just that student,” she continued. “You know, it’s their whole family. It’s their future families. It’s the community. It really has a whole community impact.”

A Life-Changing Month

G3 offers students educational opportunities catered to their specific needs and goals, as long as they relate to the five career paths within the program. Whether that’s a workplace credential, certification, or associate degree, G3 covers it. Students can also stack G3 programs; in other words, they can ultimately graduate with two workplace certifications and an associate degree, for example.

While some G3-related programs have a longer completion date, others require just one month of Monday through Thursday classes at P&HCC. Hodges expanded on the life-changing offerings. 

“We’re working with employers around the construction trades and the homebuilding industry,” Hodges said. “We’re putting together an accelerated NCCER core, which is a Fast Forward program. It’s approved for G3 funding. But we’re going to do it in about four weeks.” 

The National Center for Construction Education and Research Core is a rigorous, competency-based, industry-recognized program for career and technical education. The college worked with local industry leaders to offer guaranteed interviews to students that complete the program.

“We have at least one that will bring them in at a higher wage once they complete the training,” Hodges said. “G3 gives us the ability to be able to bring those students in, probably cover all, if not most, of their costs for the program and quickly get to an interview and a job. But that also helps us serve those employers who have strong demand right now, you know, for employees. And so we’re able to train a group quickly and at very little, if any, cost and have them prepared for the employer.”

Am I Eligible?

If a financial barrier prevents you or someone you know from attending college, the G3 program offers a solution. 

There are six eligibility requirements applicants must meet to receive G3 funding. 

First, the student must qualify for in-state tuition. Typically, that means a prospective student has lived in the commonwealth for a minimum of one year. However, there are certain exceptions to the rule under § 23.1-506 in the Code of Virginia. The exceptions remain effective until Aug. 1, 2022.

Second, the student must demonstrate a financial need. That means they have a total household income of less than or equal to 400% of the Federal Poverty Level. For a household of four, for example, that equals roughly $100,000. 

Next, students have to apply for a certain number of classes to benefit from the funding. If they enroll for a minimum of six credit hours at their local community college, they meet the requirement.

Fourth, students must have either a high school diploma or a GED before they can get G3 funding. 

Fifth, students have to enroll in a designated G3 program. That’s one of the five career paths mentioned earlier. 

Lastly, since G3 assistance makes up the difference between what federal or state financial aid pays, students have to apply for federal and state financial aid prior to G3 consideration. For example, if you’ve completed your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), that’s a step in the right direction since G3 takes other aid and scholarships into consideration first. When combined, the funds are designed to bring a student’s total out-of-pocket costs to $0.

If you’re approved for G3 funding, you’ll need to maintain a 2.0 grade point average to remain eligible for continued assistance for up to three years. 

“There is no better time for someone to go into training, to come to school, to come to college and get prepared for a career than right now,” Hodges said.

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected].


  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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