USVI to provide four years of free college tuition for all qualified high school graduates

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ST CROIX, USVI — Following US Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp’s groundbreaking announcement on Tuesday that 1,700 residents would receive free tuition to attend the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), the legislation authorizing the new scholarship program has been forwarded to senators.

Under the governor’s proposed plan, graduates from any US Virgin Islands school – public or private – are eligible to apply for four years of free tuition. The free tuition program projects the US Virgin Islands as a national leader in its commitment to educational advancement.

“We need to make investments in the right place – our people,” Mapp said.

The VI Workforce Development Scholarship Program should begin in the fall of 2019 and will cover full tuition for students seeking either an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in any course of study offered by UVI.

While free college tuition has become a major rallying cry nationally in recent years, only two other states offer the opportunity to obtain a four-year degree without incurring crippling tuition costs, and the US Virgin Islands would be the first Territory to enact such a program. UVI would also be the first historically black college in the nation to offer free tuition to residents.

UVI’s president, Dr David Hall hailed the new scholarship program as a major step in the social and economic development of the US Virgin Islands.

“I stand beside Governor Mapp with unwavering support of his vision,” Hall said. “This program has the potential to transform this territory and prepare residents to embrace the economic growth that is coming.”

In his letter transmitting the bill to Senate President Myron Jackson, the governor cited his desire to alleviate the financial burden on US Virgin Islands families, as well as the need to develop a more prepared workforce.

“Many talented graduates from our local high schools leave the territory and borrow huge sums of student loan money to attend college on the US mainland,” Mapp said. “Moreover, as a result of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, our workforce has been severely strained, and in order to address these deficiencies, and to ensure that we can meet the demands of the recovery efforts and growth of our economy, it is necessary to invest in our people.”

Mapp reminded Jackson that the US Virgin Islands ranks very low in the proportion of residents who obtain college degrees.

“The goal of this legislation is to encourage our residents to acquire post-secondary education and to ensure that we are able to keep our talented and skilled graduates in the territory to meet the demands of a rapidly growing workforce,” the governor added.

The VI Workforce Development Scholarship Program will be administered by the University of the Virgin Islands. Criteria for eligibility include graduating from any of the territory’s high schools and committing to work in the US Virgin Islands for at least one year for every two years of free tuition.

The proposed legislation provides for an annual appropriation of $3 million from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund, beginning in Fiscal Year 2019. The University of the Virgin Islands is authorized to use up to eight percent of the funds appropriated by the government for administrative costs associated with the program.

“This proposed measure is a landmark piece of legislation that will ensure that Virgin Islanders are ready, prepared and able to meet the demands of an ever-changing global economy. This is our collective opportunity to invest in, and grow the skills of, our people from within. Accordingly, I ask the members of the 32nd Legislature for their favorable consideration and passage of this most important piece of legislation,” the governor wrote.

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