Virginia’s Community Colleges are focused on workforce needs through the recession and beyond

The Lynchburg News & Advance printed an editorial today that looks at the needs of Virginia’s workforce through the current recession and beyond.

Despite the sour national and global economies, things will turn around, hopefully sooner rather than later. When the economic clouds part, the American worker had better be ready for an even more competitive world.

The editorial explains how Virginia’s Community Colleges, while working through the recession and the government budget challenges that spin-off from it, are focused on the global competitiveness that Virginia communities and employers will need to succeed in the long run.

The commonwealth, in the short run, is facing a budget shortfall of enormous proportions; long term, though, the shortfall in education and competitiveness are of mammoth proportions. Working with private industry, the community college system, in the last decade, has implemented a number of programs and partnerships designed to address the educational challenges the state faces.

The start of the 2009 session of the General Assembly is only weeks away, and the specter of a $3.2 billion shortfall looms over the state Capitol. Now is not the time, though, for Virginia’s leaders to short shrift the future.  

Bad economies are ugly and painful, but the only way to minimize their impact is to ensure that individuals and companinies in Virginia are creating and attracting job opportunities and that requires the cutting edge skills and knowledge that more than half a million people are getting through academic and workforce training programs every year at Virginia’s Community Colleges.


Virginia’s Community Colleges appearing nationally

News about Virginia’s Community Colleges is spreading.

This week, we were mentioned in the Wall Street Journal online — as well as several business wire services — for  our emphasis on transfers as a way to mitigate against higher education cost increases:

Like many states, Virginia saw the financial wisdom of channeling more in-state students to community colleges for their first two years of higher education – rather than building or vastly expanding costlier four-year schools – by promising automatic transfers into its state universities with a minimum grade-point average.

The result: Community-college graduates can even gain automatic entry into the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, one of the top public universities in the country. The program has proven especially valuable for underachieving high-school students who upon proving themselves capable in community college can complete their bachelor’s degree at state universities for which their high-school transcripts would have denied them access.

“Word of the guaranteed-transfer agreements we have with 30 public and private four-year schools is only now beginning to penetrate into the marketplace,” Kraus says. “We think it’s going to become incredibly popular even after the economy recovers.”

And Mountain Empire Community College and Patrick Henry Community College were both mentioned in recent news stories about the Gates Foundation and their grants to help students complete college, due to their successes in the Lumina Foundation’s Achieving the Dream project.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy commends MECC for “a strategy that works,” with a fast-paced remedial mathematics program resulting in a 60 percent pass rate, compared to 27 percent in standards classes.

The Raleigh News & Observer noted that Achieving the Dream helps reduce dropout rates in remedial classes in PHCC as well. Gates Foundation funds will help the Achieving the Dream project continue.

Meanwhile back in Virginia, the city of Roanoke’s guarantee of a free tuition at VWCC for city students with a grade point average of 2.0 is designed to boost high school graduation rates and give students an opportunity to begin a college career. Here’s VWCC President Bobby Sandel’s editorial blog on the topic published in the Roanoke Times. And other colleges are being noted for record enrollments this fall, including J. Sargeant Reynolds (Fox NEWS) and Wytheville Community College (Bland County Messenger) .

— posted by Susan Hayden

Scholarship carries more “weight” than paperweight

Americans spend November in a spirit of Thanksgiving. So it’s fitting that Virginia’s Community Colleges spent November in a spirit of thanks, too.

Earlier this month, the foundation on behalf of Virginia’s Community Colleges made a special, surprise announcement and gift  — the Eva T. Hardy Endowed Commonwealth Legacy Scholarship.

Spearheaded by friends and colleagues who wanted to thank her for her years of service to the Commonwealth, the gift represents a lasting legacy that will provide higher education opportunity to future Virginians.

As Governor Baliles said in a video tribute to Mrs. Hardy – “an engraved paperweight or plaque just didn’t seem enough.”

Here’s Governor Baliles: 

And here’s the honor roll of Virginians who supported the scholarship effort: 

As just one of her many civic, philanthropic and corporate activities, Mrs. Hardy has served as a member of the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education, helping steer a group dedicated to increasing the availability of higher education opportunity for all Virginians.

She spoke at the recent Annual Meeting of Virginia’s Community Colleges, reflecting on the beginnings of the Virginia Community College System and the “remarkable political achievement” it represented.  In today’s climate — just like in the 1960s when the system was created — she said:

we must act upon the conditions and make the case for what community colleges do for Virginia. These schools are the portal through which Virginia reaches the world…and through which the world reaches Virginia.

The scholarship in Eva T. Hardy’s name will continue to open the door of opportunity, and be a living legacy for a model of public service to Virginia.

College completion focus creating more partnerships for community colleges

In a new article from the Associated Press, the connection between a bad economy and community college enrollment increases is explored:

For students, that’s because of the economy, which is boosting interest in two-year schools as a cheaper starting point for a bachelor’s degree. They’re also the place for job retraining, with unemployment at a 14-year high of 6.5 percent. A community colleges group estimates enrollment is up about 8 percent this fall.

However, the writer takes it one step further to explore the growing interest private partners have in working with community colleges, which educate more than half of the nation’s college students, to see that more students graduate.

The new philanthropic attention was underscored last week when the giant Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced it would spend up to half a billion dollars over the next four years on a college completion initiative.

The goal is doubling the current proportion of about 25 percent of low-income people who earn a postsecondary credential. And it was notable that officials said the initial focus would be on two-year schools.

“More young people are enrolled in college this year than ever before,” Melinda Gates said at the Seattle conference where the initiative was announced. “But the payoff doesn’t come with enrolling in college; the payoff comes when a student gets a postsecondary degree that helps them get a job with a family wage.”

The involvement of the Gates Foundation is significant, not just because of their deep pockets, but also because of the influence they have in this arena.

The Gates announcement follows several other prominent foundations, including Lumina, Kellogg and Ford, that have recently begun focusing on community colleges, said Carol Lincoln, the national director of Achieving the Dream, an initiative working with 84 institutions on localized, bottom-up programs to improve student success rates.


But the Gates initiative sends a big signal, not only because of the foundation’s size — it had assets of $35.1 billion as of Oct. 1 — but also because Gates is known for rigorously researching its funding choices to determine where it can make the most difference.

“When people hear the Gates Foundation is considering investing in something it attracts attention,” Lincoln said. “I think it’s going to be a tremendous impact.”

Considering the budgetary stress that Virginia and so many other states are facing, the timing of these types of partnerships and investments could not be better.

Posted by Jeff Kraus

Virginia state budget details start to emerge

The snow flurries that appeared yesterday in parts of the commonwealth were not the only indication that Virginia’s winter may be long, dark and bitter.

According to a report from AP reporter Bob Lewis, General Assembly leaders are beginning to learn some of the grim details that confront Virginia’s budget.

…budget writers got their fullest look Tuesday at a darkening fiscal crisis that will soon force them to cut government priorities once held harmless.

“You are at the juncture where all the low-hanging fruit is gone,” members of the House Appropriations Committee learned from the chief of the committee staff, Robert Vaughn.

Virginia’s Community Colleges have already absorbed two different 5% cuts this year – a reduction of $40 million – despite the fact it is continuing to shatter previous enrollment records.

It is hard, however, to find much of a silver lining in the information being presented to law makers:

In the hard-hit real estate sector, Virginia in October saw a tenfold increase in the number of home foreclosures since 2004. People who held onto their homes have seen their equity wither the past two years. One telling measure from the Washington, D.C., market is that the percentage of people who forfeited deposits they had put down on contract to buy a house increased from 4 percent in 2005 to spike at 66 percent in August, largely a measure of buyers who could not secure financing, according to a George Mason University analysis.

Legislators were told to expect a grim 2009, expect a recovery late that year or early 2010, then a more robust economic expansion in 2011. Other glimmers of hope:

_Fuel prices continue to fall as the nation enters the winter heating season.

_There are signs that the worst of the housing slump may be over. And homes are more affordable now than they have been in three years.

_Military spending continues to buttress Virginia’s economy with an 18 percent increase in the past quarter. Virginia is second only to California in military spending.

We will learn more December 17 when Governor Kaine offers his budget amendments to a joint meeting of the General Assembly money committees.

Posted by Jeff Kraus


Election News; Barack Obama and Higher Education

November 4 was an exciting day in Virginia, as the Old Dominion carried Barack Obama for President, elected a new Senator, and voted two new members into the House of Representatives. 

The Virginia Senate seat of John Warner will be filled by former Virginia Governor Mark Warner.  Incumbent Representative Thelma Drake was defeated by Glenn Nye in District 2.  Current Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Gerald Connolly, won the District 11 seat being vacated by the retiring Tom Davis.  

For Virginia election coverage details, see the results from the Virginia Board of Elections.

Our newly elected President, Barack Obama, has indicated his views on higher education issues throughout his campaign through policy addresses and other forums.   Obama has commented on access to higher education, student loans, financial aid, affirmative action, and the role of community colleges.  To access a summary of his positions, see this link from today’s Inside Higher Ed.

Posted by Ellen Davenport

Community colleges boosting nursing ranks

The increases in numbers of new nurses graduating from Virginia’s Community Colleges is so impressive that Governor Kaine wanted everyone to know about it.

In a news release Friday, Governor Kaine applauded the increase and the partnership with the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association that is helping make it happen.

In 2005, VHHA and Virginia’s Community Colleges collaborated on a taskforce report that said more than 20,000 new nurses would be needed by 2010.  Since 2003, the percentage of new nurses graduating from Virginia’s Community College has increased 67 percent.

Virginia’s community colleges are educating nearly half of Virginia’s new nurses every year.

— Posted by Susan Hayden