Gubernatorial candidates talk higher education at summit

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Both major party candidates for Virginia governor have said education is a top priority for them.

A Quinnipiac University poll found it’s one of the most important issues for voters, too.

On Wednesday, Democrat Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie spoke at the 2017 Virginia Summit on Higher Education and Economic Competitiveness.

Both candidates said their educational opportunities helped propel them to where they are today. But, as governor, they would approach the topic differently.

“The jobs of the 21st century don’t necessarily require a college education,” Northam told the group of business and education leaders. “They’re really in what we call STEAM-H related areas — science, technology, engineering, the arts, math, health care.”

Northam pushed his G3 plan. It stands for Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back.

Under the proposal, certain associate degrees or workforce credentials would be free to Virginians — as long as they commit to one year of public service.

“I believe there are no free lunches anymore,” Northam said. “People have to work for what they get.”

That could mean working for a non-profit or startup after obtaining a free degree or credential. It could also mean working in an economically depressed area of Virginia in need of their newly-acquired skills.

“It’s just an opportunity to make sure that everybody can live the American dream,” said Northam.

Gillespie doesn’t agree with the approach.

“If you think it’s expensive now, wait until he makes it free,” he said.

Gillespie said there are other ways Virginia’s workforce can meet employer demands.

The Republican said the solution to filling skills gaps is broader-based collaboration, strategic partnerships and funding that’s based on targeting outcomes.

“For three straight years now, more people have moved out of Virginia than into Virginia, ” said Gillespie.

Gillespie said they are taking their degrees with them.

“We are subsidizing other states’ economies,” he said.

Gillespie said a talented workforce is a magnet for business investment.

He believes higher education should be “more than a degree manufacturer.”

He would like to see curriculum Alignment, regional partnerships, more internships and externships for work experience and retention.

When it comes to higher education, both candidates do agree that affordability and accessibility should be key.

To view Northam’s plans for higher education in the commonwealth, click HERE.

Click HERE to see the higher ed proposals Gillespie has rolled out.

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