Virginia Highlands Community College in Abingdon is the latest two-year institution to offer free tuition to local high school graduates, thanks to local government and philanthropic support.
The announcement came Friday from the Smyth County Board of Supervisors and the Smyth County Community Foundation. The Smyth County Promise scholarship will be available to any high school graduate from Smyth County (including public and private schools as well as home school) who enrolls at Virginia Highlands Community College or Wytheville Community College in the summer or fall immediately following their high school graduation.
It’s a “last dollar” scholarship, which means it covers what’s left after federal, state and private scholarships are applied. Students can receive the scholarship for five of six consecutive semesters as long as they maintain a 2.0 GPA; they must also complete 10 hours of community service each semester. The scholarship is open to degree-seeking students as well as those pursuing workforce credentials.
The Smyth County Promise scholarship will be available to 2023 high school graduates.
“The Smyth County Board of Supervisors believe our best assets are our youth and we hope this partnership will show our support for investing in our youth,” Lynda Helton, executive director of the Smyth County Community Foundation, said in a statement. “We believe everyone deserves a chance to learn, whether it is for a future doctor or a future welder. This program can support all professions.”
Wytheville Community College already offers similar scholarships through the Wythe-Bland Foundation and the Twin County Community Foundation. But it’s the first program of its kind for Virginia Highlands, which serves students from Bristol, Washington County and the western part of Smyth County.
As recently as December 2022, Virginia Highlands was one of just two community colleges in Southwest and Southside Virginia that didn’t have some sort of locality-funded scholarship. Danville Community College is now the only outlier.
“This investment ensures that every high school graduate in the county has the opportunity to earn a college degree or workforce credential,” Adam Hutchison, president of Virginia Highlands, said in a statement.
Virginia’s G3 program offers last-dollar assistance to community college students at certain income levels, but it’s only applicable to specific programs at each school that support high-demand careers.
Virginia Highlands has G3 programs in health care, information technology, manufacturing and skilled trades, early childhood education and public safety. But those designated fields leave out many students who may be considering transferring to a four-year school after community college, Hutchison said in an interview Friday.
The Promise scholarship, he said, “provides complementary funding so everyone who wants to stay in Smyth County and get a great education can receive some financial assistance.”