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Virginia gubernatorial candidates pitch plans for higher education

RICHMOND, Va. -- With less one month to Election Day, the two major party candidates for governor sold their plans for higher education in the Commonwealth Wednesday.  Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie addressed a group of local business and education leaders at the Summit on Higher Education and Economic Competitiveness.

"The jobs of the 21st century are in what we call STEAM-H related areas: the science, technology, engineering, arts, math and health care. That's really what we need to prepare our youth for as we move forward," Northam, the current Lt. Governor, said.

"We're going to make college more affordable for here in the Commonwealth of Virginia and we're going to have the degree be of value in the marketplace, so that when our children graduate from our great colleges and universities they'll have a career path here in Virginia," Gillespie said.

During their remarks to the summit, both men said making college more affordable and accessible would lead to greater economic opportunities in the Commonwealth.

Northam spoke about his "G-3" plan in which Virginia would pay for students to go to community college to train in "new collar" careers (cyber-security, computer programming, health care, etc.), and in exchange, the student would commit to one year of public service  after completing their program.

Gillespie said his administration would work to make college more affordable for Virginia students and support regional partnerships to encourage private industry investment in Virginia schools and their mentoring or apprenticeship programs.

However, in separate interviews following their remarks, both men were critical of their opponent's approach to education issues during the campaign.

Northam said Gillespie has focused on political attacks and ads instead of spreading his ideas for how to improve Virginia's higher education system.

"He's talking about division and bigotry and running ads saying I'm fighting for MS-13.  It's despicable.  Virginians see through that.  Virginians deserve and are ready for civility." the Lt. Governor said.

Gillespie asked voters to compare his website to Northam's because Gillespie said Northam's plan is light on details.

"I've been focused on the four-year college path as well as community college, in addition to that. The real contrast here is I have a plan and he doesn't," Gillespie said.

Libertarian candidate Cliff Hyra did not speak at the summit. His higher education plan calls for greater investment in career and technical schools, according to his campaign website.

Clover Hill High School senior Calista Yost is busy sending in applications to colleges and universities in Virginia. Yost said her life would be easier if financial aid applications were simplified.

"Applying for financial aid is very, very confusing," she said.  "I think college is the foundation... being able to focus on my life while being independent, not having her my parents behind me all the time, I think its really helpful and a big step toward adulthood for me."

The gubernatorial election in Virginia is November 7.  The deadline to register to vote is October 16.