Watts: Expanding Access to Higher Education for Virginia’s Economic Recovery | Chroniclers

Rebecca watts

Nick gould

Rebecca watts

If Virginia’s workforce is to meet the ever-changing needs of business and industry, and if employers want to provide thriving paid jobs that allow individuals to advance in chosen career paths, there is work to do.

Although Virginia has slowly regained the jobs lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the unemployment rate for February (5.2%) is lower than the national average (6.2%), it is still higher than it was last year at this time (3.3%).

Local industries, ranging from healthcare to information technology, all need a skilled and skilled workforce to continually maintain and modernize their service and product offerings. Without a top-notch talent pool prepared with relevant 21st century skills, companies risk not staying competitive.

Reversing this trend will require broad collaborative efforts, like the Virginia Chamber of Commerce Blueprint for Returning Virginians to Work, which directly addresses this issue with an imperative to align educational opportunities with areas of high demand. A self-sustaining workforce strengthens the Commonwealth’s economy and is made up of individuals who have the modern and relevant tools to reach their full potential, developed through education to harness talent into opportunity.

But there is an affordability gap to access this education. Last year, student submissions from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) fell 8% nationwide. In Virginia, applications were down 8.7% and 31% for low-income Virginia high school students. These students are part of a critical segment of the state’s population – people who have not pursued higher education and the jobs that might result, in large part because they have not applied for or received financial assistance.

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