Difficult to believe it has been a year since our world turned upside down as the COVID-19 pandemic began to hit home. This time last year schools closed, businesses shut down and employers started to worry about how long they could sustain jobs for their employees.
While we all hoped the steps being taken to address COVID-19 would be short-lived, many worried this could be longer than anticipated and wondered about the long-term effects on their employment, families and, of course, their well-being. As more got ill and the death rate climbed, the economic impact also became more pronounced with businesses
closing permanently and employees finding themselves without a source of income.
While nonprofits, local and state governments stepped up where they could, the sheer numbers became overwhelming and the hole in which we found ourselves as a nation got deeper. Other options were needed to slow the impact, maintain where we could and eventually, move us on a path forward.
Major crises of this sort can also stimulate innovative thinking and novel ideas, resulting in new and creative approaches to both address the problem at hand and relieve the impact on those most affected. One such result came from the Commonwealth of Virginia when, in November 2020, Governor Ralph Northam announced the ‘Re-Employing Virginians’ Workforce Initiative, REV for short.
This initiative provided $30 million to Virginia’s community college system to help current and future students cover the costs of tuition in fields which would lead to careers in their communities. Northern Virginia Community College’s allocation from the REV initiative provided $5.8 million to support qualified individuals by covering the costs of tuition and fees for students in high-demand fields as identified by area workforce development boards.
Funds were targeted to Virginia residents who had seen hours of work reduced, been temporarily laid-off or lost their jobs due to COVID-19. The program covered up to $3,000 in tuition costs for short-term training or certification programs in these high-demand fields.
Northam touted the initiative saying, “Virginians who have been furloughed, had hours reduced or lost a job because of the pandemic are struggling and wondering what the future holds. Investing in programs that help people develop skills in high-demand fields is a win for workers, employers and our economy.”
Anne Kress, president of Northern Virginia Community College, noted, “The unemployment rate in Northern Virginia has more than doubled during the pandemic, significantly impacting the financial future of residents. REV tuition vouchers help current and new NOVA students restart their careers and cross the finish line to complete workforce degrees or short-term credentials.”
February statistics from NOVA indicate the initiative is working, with more than 1,400 students enrolling in credit and specific workforce programs in the current semester utilizing REV grants amounting to $2.3 million to date. And while statistics provide part of the story, the impact of the REV grants on individuals is much more telling.
One student said, “I have experienced a couple of scares with potential income changes/insecurity and have had a couple of health scares. It [the REV grant] was a safety net in those times.”
The REV program, one of many aimed at deserving students at Northern Virginia Community College, is making a difference in both the day-to-day lives of the students it helps fund and their futures. Brighter futures for Virginia residents means better days for the Commonwealth and each of us.
The writer was principal of T. C. Williams High School from 1984 to 2006. He currently serves as Alexandria’s representative to the Northern Virginia Community College Board.