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(The Center Square) – Virginia was awarded nearly $25 million in federal grant money to assist students with higher education and job training through the Department of Education’s GEAR UP program.

The GEAR UP program provides states with money to provide services for high-poverty middle and high schools. The funding is used to give students the resources and knowledge they need to apply for federal assistance and to provide scholarships for some low-income students.

Virginia was awarded about $24.7 million over the course of the next seven years. The money will help the State Council of Higher Education launch an initiative to prepare students for the process of applying for federal aid when they go to college or enroll in job training programs.

“All students deserve access to a world-class education—and financial aid plays a critical role in making that happen,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement. “Virginia’s commitment to higher education and jobs training is why we are currently the best state in the nation to do business, and why companies from all over the world continue to flock to our Commonwealth. The FAFSA Completion Work Group’s recommendations will ensure every student has the chance to pursue affordable, high-impact degrees and credentials, no matter who they are or where they live.”

According to the governor’s office, the commonwealth ranked 26th in the country for FAFSA completion with 52.7% of eligible students applying for the financial aid. A 2018 study showed that about eligible 15,000 high school seniors who went on to pursue higher education did not complete their FAFSA documents, which accounted for $58 million in accessible federal aid not being used.

Northam convened a FAFSA work group in March, which set a long-term goal of all eligible students filling out the application annually. The group’s final report developed a plan to increase completion rates, which included the creation of a College Access and Completion Advisory Board, a dashboard with real-time data about completion rates and partnerships to provideFAFSA assistance for low-income families, among other things.

“Research indicates that those with a college degree have greater lifetime earnings, are healthier, enjoy greater job security, and are more engaged in their communities,” Secretary of Education Atif Qarni said in a statement. “Higher education cultivates talent to support our 21st century workforce—I am proud of the work Virginia has done and will continue to do to invest in wraparound supports, increase FAFSA completion rates, decrease achievement gaps, and improve degree attainment.”

FAFSA applications for next year can be submitted starting Oct. 1.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.