Students in trades apprenticeship programs can now earn associate degrees while they study and work.
George Capel, director of government relations for the State Building and Construction Trades Council, told the legislative committee responsible for labor and worker safety issues that making these degrees more accessible is a selling point for trades apprentices. The comments were made at an interim meeting on Tuesday morning.
“We can look at a potential candidate and say, ‘Look, not only are you going to take this apprenticeship, but by taking this program, you’re also going to get an associate’s degree,'” Capel said.
Capel said these education programs will reach an average of 2,500 business students in the state, 500 of whom graduate each year.
Discussions focused on the barriers and technicalities preventing potential students from receiving these degrees. Representatives of professional organizations spoke to the committee about the possibility of working with the legislature on funding and accessibility in the future, particularly regarding West Virginia Invests and the free application for federal assistance to students (FAFSA).
West Virginia Invests is a financial aid program that covers tuition for associate degree programs. Apprentices can receive around $20,000 through WV Invests to cover a four-year program.
Everett Johnson, director of training at the West Virginia Carpenter Training Center, said filling out student aid forms should be made easier for young students who live independently.
“We had people who just couldn’t complete the FAFSA,” Johnson said. “Although we tried to educate their parents, they weren’t going to complete the paperwork for a student loan. That’s what they thought. And it wasn’t just about completing FAFSA. There were a lot of people who just didn’t get funded because their parents wouldn’t.
Another example Johnson gave was to make these degree programs more accessible to those involved in the military.
“We had a young guy who was in my program, and I couldn’t believe this happened, but he was disqualified from the degree program because he was on active duty,” Johnson said. “He couldn’t do his community service, which in my opinion, if you’re going to serve in the active duty military, you’ve made community service the ultimate.”
Matt Turner of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission said the state must have 60% of its population to have a post-secondary degree if the state’s current economic situation is to be sustained by 2030.
“We have a long, long way to go,” Turner said.