Chancellor’s Retreat Challenges Community College Leaders to “Do the Impossible”
Hundreds of community college leaders throughout Virginia are being challenged to think big thoughts, ask tough questions, and help their institutions find ways to attract more students and ensure more of them complete a credential.
CAPTION: Chancellor DuBois discussed the findings of the JLARC report and how the VCCS is responding to its recommendations.
“There’s an urgency to our community college mission that has a way of finding us. Our task is to answer the challenge it offers; to leverage the opportunity it presents,” said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges. (Click HERE to read the chancellor’s keynote address at the retreat.)
The challenge was put to the nearly 300 community college presidents, senior staff, faculty, and board members who gathered earlier this month at the 2017 VCCS Chancellor’s Retreat at The Founder’s Inn in Virginia Beach.
The chancellor’s keynote addressed was organized around the findings of the recently released report from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission on the operations of Virginia’s Community Colleges.
“To our surprise, there really were no surprises,” said DuBois. “They call them recommendations. I call them reminders because the things that captured their attention have held our attention for some time now. In many cases, we are already designing, building and implementing solutions.”
Finding and implementing those solutions will not be easy, as many of the retreat’s speakers noted. Virginia’s Community Colleges are the commonwealth’s leading higher education provider to students who are minorities, older, the first in their family’s history to attend college, and often used to going hungry. Serving those people means overcoming circumstances that most people don’t think of when they hear the phrase, “college student.”
“JLARC made it a big point to label these students as “at-risk.” We simply call them our students. These folks are close to my heart because I was among them when I mustered the courage to first step foot on a community college campus,” DuBois said.
Those challenges are not going away as the state’s population is shifting. Steve Staples, the executive officer of Virginia’s Department of Education, says Virginia’s public schools model, which was crafted in 1915, needs updating to serve a new and different body of students.
“Virginia is a majority-minority (public school) system for the first time ever this year, Staples said. “Some 12 percent of our students are non-native English speakers. They speak some 200 different languages and often are illiterate even in their native language.”
The implication was clear — those students will eventually be looking to a community college for an opportunity.
A presentation from Tom Sugar, the president of Complete College America, illustrated how that could compound a present-day challenge for Virginia’s Community Colleges: a completion rate achievement gap, especially for African-American male students.
“You have to own that,” said Sugar.
Some institutions are owning that, even if for reasons that are not always altruistic. Tressie Cottom, an assistant professor of Sociology at Virginia Commonwealth and author of the book Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy, challenged the idea that students of color do not value higher education or believe that attending college is a worthy goal. She says African-Americans place a high value on the belief in higher education, but there is a gap between that belief and traditional institutional systems in place to make that belief achievable.
CAPTION: Author and VCU professor, Tressie Cottom, discussed the gap in educational attainment for students of color.
The retreat was concluded with a call to action from Mark Musick, the president emeritus of the Southern Region Education Board, who highlighted historic achievements that were all considered impossible until someone achieved them. His point was clear: community colleges can’t let the size of a challenge overwhelm the resources it has and the desire it demonstrates to achieve its mission and help more people earn a postsecondary credential.