RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — On Thursday, Governor Ralph Northam announced that Virginia was the recipient of a $24.7 million federal GEAR UP grant to increase access to higher education and jobs training for students across the Commonwealth.

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“All students deserve access to a world-class education—and financial aid plays a critical role in making that happen,” said Governor Northam. “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 seven-year grant is expected to allow the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia to launch a statewide college access initiative that helps ensure that students do not miss out on federal financial aid.

Northam made the announcement at a meeting of the FAFSA Completion Work Group. The group was created in March of 2021 when Northam set a long-term goal of every eligible student in Virginia completing a FAFSA application each year.

Currently, the Commonwealth has a 52.7% completion rate, ranking it 26th nationally for FAFSA completion.

Data from 2018 shows that approximately 15,000 Virginia high school seniors that would have been eligible for Pell grants did not complete the FAFSA, amounting to more than $58 million in federal aid that students left on the table.

“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,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “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.”

The FAFSA form opens on October 1st each year. For more information, or to fill out the application, click here.