The journey to free higher learning hit a new stride this month after it was announced the University of The Virgin Islands will provide free tuition to students, making it the first historically black institution to do so.
The Virgin Islands Daily News reports the program stems from Act 8155, titled The Virgin Islands Higher Education Scholarship. Signed into law by Gov. Kenneth Mapp, the program was introduced by Lieutenant Governor and Sen. Tregenza Roach. The act was inspired by the need to increase retention to UVI, who suffered greatly after Hurricane Maria in 2017.
The small university hosts 1,275 undergraduate students with popular programs for Business, Nursing, and Police and Criminal Science. Stipulations for the free program include a 2.5 GPA from residents of V.I. who graduated from a private, public or parochial high school. FAFSA applications must be filled out before March 1 to be considered. Applicants also have to take part in community service projects within seven years of graduating. The projects have to include a timeline of two months to three years.
Speaking to reporters, Sen Roach shared how free tuition will provide a future to many young people on the island.
“It’s an exciting time for Virgin Island students and it’s an exciting time for the university,” Sen. Roach said. “[During Hurricane Maria] we saw students challenged economically who would return for one semester and not come back, maybe two semesters and not come back. I’m grateful to Gov. Mapp because he identified funding, the idea was preempted, it was before the legislation and so we fused the financial component of his bill to mine.”
“I want to say to people look at these things not in a vacuum but in the bigger picture. The bigger picture includes looking at our university and what it offers and how we’re going to ensure that the labor needs of the territory are met, that we create meaningful education and employment opportunities for our young people.”
Blavity reports university president Dr. David Hall was also in favor of the new law.
“A college degree is no longer a luxury that the rich and the academically and athletically gifted individuals can obtain,” he said. “Higher education is a basic necessity and must be provided in the same way we provide other basic necessities.”