Facing an inevitable decline in the number of traditional college age students, aged 18-24, and a growing need for adults to re-skill to keep up with a changing economy, VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois drove home a message to the 2019 Chancellor’s Retreat: it’s time to refocus on serving more adult learners and do more to help students overcome challenges they carry from their lives off-campus.
“We can’t ignore reality,” DuBois told more than two hundred college leaders, board members, and partners who gathered in Roanoke for the annual gathering.
“Over the next decade, the high school age range of 15-19 will shrink. The number of adults between 25 and 44, however, will grow. If we talk about that age group, the number of Virginians without a postsecondary credential is roughly 1.2 million. That’s more than 13 times the number of Virginians who graduate from high school each year.”
College presidents new to the VCCS were excited to hear the message.
“Other community college systems around the country already are going in this direction,” said Dr. Jacqueline Gill-Powell, president at Danville Community College. “I’m glad to hear the chancellor say this. Helping people find new and better jobs is, in my opinion, where the rubber meets the road.”
Gill-Powell also supports the contention that our colleges need to partner with other agencies more effectively to help growing numbers of students who face food and housing insecurity.
“When you’re hungry, you can’t concentrate on math,” she said.
“Nearly 17,000 college students used SNAP benefits a few years ago, and three-quarters of them are our students,” said DuBois. “These challenges defy stereotype. They weigh down urban, suburban, and rural students of every demographic….What if we can support the entire person in their pursuit of credentials?”
“It is refreshing to see that we are focusing holistically on our students, looking at ways that we can support them,” said Dr. Shannon Kennedy, president at Rappahannock Community College. “No longer are the days where we ‘weed out’ students that do not know how to navigate the complicated college process.”
“My own father benefited from workforce re-training about 40 years ago,” said Dr. Quentin Johnson, president at Southside Virginia Community College. “When there are major shifts in the economy, like there were in the steel and auto industries in the last part of the last century, community colleges need to step up to help adult learners. We need to target more adults.”
“If you look at my part of the state, our opportunity is clearly with people who are over 25 years old,” said Dr. James Schaeffer, president at Eastern Shore Community College. “We have tremendous numbers of people who would benefit from gaining workforce credentials and getting the skills that employers want.”
Said DuBois, “It seems to me that we are no longer just in the community college business, but rather the business of helping our students earn jobs and careers.”
You can view a video of the chancellor’s speech here.
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