Free community college in Virginia for in-demand industries

Why a focus on Virginia’s most in demand industries could be the answer to less student debt

We'll tell you why a focus on Virginia’s most in demand industries could be the answer to less student debt.

ROANOKE, Va.This article is part of “Solutionaries,” our continuing commitment to solutions journalism, highlighting the creative people in communities working to make the world a better place, one solution at a time. Find out what you can do to help at

The price tag of college can often be daunting. Thousands of dollars spent on tuition, books, and boarding, can lead to mounting student debt. But what if we told you it’s possible to go for free? We’re working for you to explain why a focus on Virginia’s most in-demand industries could be the answer.

“When I see the nurse taking care of the patient, I really want to be one of them,” said Thanh Nguyen, a medical assistant at Carilion Clinic but her journey wasn’t easy. “When our family first came to the country, my dad got really sick and had been hospitalized in Carilion for many years so [the] healthcare environment wasn’t too strange for me.”

She started a nursing program but that didn’t work out.

“When I applied for the program, I wasn’t a US citizen. So it will be more expensive for me. It will be harder for me to be able to be in the program,” said Nguyen.

That’s when an advisor at Virginia Western Community College told her about the G3 program. It can be used at any of Virginia’s 23 community colleges for designated programs in five of the most in-demand industries: Early Childhood Education, Healthcare, Information Technology, Public Safety, and Skilled Trades.

Within each of those industries, there are different programs they can choose from that qualify. For instance, in healthcare, there are nine different degrees at Virginia Western including nursing, radiation oncology, surgical technology, physical therapy assistant, and medical lab technology.

The goal is to provide a pipeline of skilled employees in those high-demand areas.

“It really will help the economy of the Roanoke Valley by having more employees that are trained, well trained,” said Dr. Elizabeth Wilmer, the Vice President of Student and Academic Affairs at Virginia Western.

She says there are some limitations. To qualify, you have to:

  • be a Virginia resident,
  • take at least six credits a semester,
  • apply for financial aid using the FAFSA, where you will get financial aid or any other scholarships and grants you qualify for.

“Then G3 pays for the rest of their tuition, fees, books, and if they qualify for full financial aid, it will give them a stipend,” said Wilmer.

A stipend that can be used for living expenses.

The G3 program helps in two ways. It helps employers get the people they need to run a business but it also helps students pay for college.

Since last summer, Virginia Western has used G3 funding to provide $1.22 million in assistance to 1,336 students. On the workforce side, G3 so far has helped 27 students obtain credentials and funded students in CCMA, Pharm Tech, EKG Tech, Phlebotomy, Welding, HEO, Mechatronics Fundamentals, and Machining.

Across all 23 Virginia community colleges for the 2021-22 academic year:

  • 11,084 VCCS students received nearly $14.9 million in G3 tuition assistance,
  • 75% (8,272) of the G3 students enrolled in credit programs that lead to a postsecondary degree or certificate, while the remaining quarter (2,867) were enrolled in noncredit Workforce Credential Grant (WCG) programs that lead to third-party licensure or certification.

Virginia Community colleges offering free classes through the G3 initiative, you can learn more about that by visiting:

This story is part of a program at WSLS 10, “Solutionaries.” Solutions offer hope and that’s the belief of Solutionaries, a show from our parent company, Graham Media Group, focusing on those who are taking on some of our biggest challenges. Each episode focuses on effective responses to problems and offers viewers ways they can join the effort for positive change.

This month, we’re talking about labor, the workforce and what’s being done to recruit and keep employees. You can watch it starting Wednesday, October 5 at 8 p.m.

We tackle one topic at a time, highlighting problems many of us are dealing with and the solutions that are out there. The solution could be in our backyard, or something else that’s working across the country.

You can check out our story on how Danville is fighting record violent crime and gang activity here.

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About the Author:

You can see Jenna weekday mornings at the anchor desk on WSLS 10 Today from 5-7 a.m. She also leads our monthly Solutionaries Series, where we highlight the creative thinkers and doers working to make the world a better place.