Local Commentary

Senator Dick Saslaw’s Richmond Report

saslaw-fcnpIn an attempt to keep you informed about matters affecting our Commonwealth, I intended to use this space exclusively to let you know what we are doing in higher education. I will get to that shortly. However, I believe the confirmation process from across the Potomac is worth noting as well.

The nomination process currently underway is nothing short of a national disgrace. The majority party has their eye on the Nov. 6 federal elections and is attempting to ramrod this candidate on the Supreme Court. The pretense of a thorough vetting has been a public charade.

Candidates for the court should and must be above all suspicion of wrongful behavior and have the correct temperament. More importantly, women who have been victims of sexual assault should be encouraged to come forward and be believed when sharing one of the most excruciatingly painful experiences.

When casting your vote, remember these unsettling hearings. I urge you to vote for Tim Kaine, Gerry Connolly, Don Beyer and Jennifer Wexton depending on your Congressional District. Along with Mark Warner and other members of the Delegation, we need them to fight for what is right and with the majority, they will put an end to this national embarrassment.

Shifting gears, we are striving to make Virginia the best-educated state by 2030. This means we will have to grow the number of Virginians with a post-secondary degree from 51–70 percent between now and 2030. Postsecondary education of all kinds is needed to allow Virginians to remain prosperous and to meet the demands of the future workforce. We are currently on track to meet this goal. Keeping post-secondary education affordable is critical to the success of the goal.

I support need-based financial aid and staunchly advocate for higher education in general. This latest budget reflects those long held priorities with roughly $120.6 million general fund of new initiative funding over the biennium for colleges and universities and other higher education entities and centers and $20 million for a new research initiative called Cyber-X with Virginia Tech serving as the lead institution.

The Cyber-X initiative will be housed here in Northern Virginia. There will be additional opportunities for today’s high school and college students to gain an education and work experiences in this area to prepare to take jobs.

The budget includes $4 million GF over the biennium for the New Economy Workforce Credential Grant and another $1.8 million in other workforce initiatives. The New Economy Workforce Credential Grant is an innovative program that provides high-need certification programs for two-year college students. The Senate has been focused on supporting many affordable pathways to prosperity — the New Economy Workforce Credential Grant is one program — the Transfer Grant is another.

The Two-Year College Transfer Grant Program was passed into law in Virginia in 2007. Qualifying students completing their Associate’s Degree at a Virginia two-year public college and then transferring to a participating Virginia four-year college or university may receive a one of these awards of up to $3,000 annually.

Students must complete a transfer associate’s degree with a 3.0 grade-point-average and meet financial eligibility requirements. If they meet these requirements then the grant will be applied to tuition expenses at a four-year Virginia public or private college or university. The grant provides $1,000 for students, with an additional $1,000 for students who pursue undergraduate work in engineering, mathematics, technology, nursing, teaching or science.

The Senate was instrumental in supporting $400,000 for a new pilot program to lead to a better pathway to employment — an internship pilot program. The State Council of Higher Education for VA has recently put out a grant proposal for institutions to partner with private businesses to provide these opportunities while also contributing equal funding. It is the hope that these partnerships will allow for students to enter the workforce with relevant work experience and with financial support that will allow them to earn their degree through the use of less debt.

In this budget — for the first time — a student loan ombudsmen was funded at the State Council. This will allow for that position to assist borrowers with the education loan process.


Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at district35@senate.virginia.gov.