Editor’s Note: The presentation below was given during a briefing for top legislative and administration policy makers on Tuesday, August 13, 2019. The process occurs every two years and is part of the planning for the biennial budget that the Governor will propose in late fall and the General Assembly will approve in 2020. This presentation did not include all key VCCS budget priorities, including salary increases for faculty and staff, increasing transfer success, and several measures aimed at increasing equity.
Ladies and gentlemen: good afternoon.
Let me begin by saying thank you. Many of you who are in the room today – and others who are not – deserve appreciation for helping us experience an historic moment this spring.
For the first time in my tenure; for the first time since the turn of the century – with your help – we were able to hold the line on tuition and fees at Virginia’s Community Colleges.
My friends, that matters a great deal.
Generally speaking, our tuition and mandatory fees are one-third of the comparable fees at a public university. Yet, we know even that is a stretch for too many of the students and families we serve.
Every year, come time to set tuition, we face a difficult task: balancing the need for affordability while ensuring the quality of our offerings.
Your partnership made this year the easiest one I’ve experienced in striking that balance. (And our plan includes scenarios for us to come together and do it again next year.)
Intuitively, we all know that our community colleges are different than Virginia’s universities – different missions, different histories, and different credentials. Perhaps our biggest difference, however, is easy to forget. It’s the difference in the people that we serve.
University students and community college students have always been different from each other, but those differences have only grown more stark over time.
Simply put, our students today are older, poorer, more likely to be the first in their family to go to college – just like I was – and they are more likely to attend class part-time while working fulltime.
The fact that they work so much is significant, especially when it comes to their academic success.
Study after study confirms that students who both work and come from low-income families are less likely to earn a credential overall, even if they come from the upper end of the academic performance distribution.
Just last month, Georgetown University released yet another report on the role of affluence on academic and career outcomes. They summarized their findings this way, “In short, in America, it’s better to be born rich than smart.”
If you grew up believing in the promise of the American Dream, as we all did, that should make us uncomfortable.
Statistically speaking, even if the individual is a strong student, the challenges of being poor and working while studying means they probably won’t graduate.
I don’t refer to our institutions as two-year colleges. Three out of five of our students attend part-time. They take about nine credit hours a year. And it takes them five or six years to graduate – if they ever make it.
As 25-year-olds, the students who pursue traditional academic degrees with us are older than their university counterparts are. Add on another decade when looking at our FastForward students; their average age is 36.
Nearly half of our students are minorities.
Nearly half of our students demonstrate financial need. In rural Virginia, that need is greater.
Poverty, food insecurity, and housing insecurity are common features across our student bodies.
So, why do I start our presentation this way? Why is it important to remind you of these facts?
I do so because these are our realities, and these are the challenges that we confront with our updated six-year plan, especially the priorities we will highlight this afternoon.
With that, I would like to hand-off to Dr. Sharon Morrissey, the VCCS Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic and Workforce Programs, who will walk you through some of the specifics we are proposing to enhance our coaching and advising; preparing for the Governor’s G-3 promise program; expanding Virginia’s Workforce Credentials Grants; and an exciting IPPA proposal.
Good afternoon. We are talking about our coaching/advising priority first because it is truly the foundation of everything else that we will discuss this afternoon.
During the recession – a period of rapid and historic enrollment growth for our colleges – our institutions tried to plug the gaps in advising with efforts that were noble and well-intended but not necessarily strategic. And as the following period of enrollment decline illustrated, not nearly effective enough.
Today, the VCCS faces four significant advising challenges:
1) Lack of clearly defined advising strategies and models;
2) Inadequate advising personnel;
3) High student-to-advisor ratios; and
4) Time constraints – especially at critical points during the semester – that permit advisors to only focus on transactional activities rather than meaningful discussions about educational and career goals.
These challenges were captured in the comprehensive 2017 JLARC report which identified the need to expand advising capacity across our colleges. The report articulated the connection between the shortage of coaching/advising resources and the success of our students in terms of retention, successful transfer, or earning a credential.
One critical JLARC finding is that our colleges do not have sufficient advising staff to ensure that students receive regular, proactive advising, especially for at-risk students.
When we received the JLARC report, we conducted an analysis of current VCCS advising caseloads and found that they are nowhere near national benchmarks and recommended averages. The national recommendation for community college student-to-advisor ratio is 300:1.
The VCCS student-to-advisor ratio is nearly double that, currently 548:1.
To increase our colleges’ capacity to serve students who are at-risk of not completing and to achieve an optimal student-to-advisor ratio of 300:1 would require an advising workforce of approximately 800 people. We are currently 353 people short of that.
We know that lowering that ratio works. We know this from national research, and we know this from a program that we’ve operated on a smaller scale here in Virginia. We call it coaching, and it doesn’t require someone with a master’s degree to provide the kinds of supports that today’s students need.
The Chancellor’s College Success Coach Initiative was created in Fall 2012 to support students who were at risk of not completing a college credential at ten of our smallest colleges in the Rural Virginia Horseshoe.
Using special funds set aside for this purpose, the colleges were able to hire twofull time coaches to provide wrap-around support services to students who are historically marginalized (minority), under-resourced (Pell Grant eligible), and/or first generation students. These are students who face enormous barriers to completion. These are the students who typically drop out because they don’t have enough money or they fail too many classes in their first semester.
Each student success coach serves a caseload of 100 students. In fact, you might call these coaches “navigators.” They orient the students, help them complete the financial aid process, require mandatory regular check-ins, help them find tutors when needed, contact them when they miss a class, help them find emergency financial aid when they needed to fix a flat tire, and send them reminders when it is time to register for the next semester. In short, these coaches help first generation and underrepresented students navigate college the college process.
We have evidence that intensive coaching works for at-risk students. Our data outcomes show that students who participate in coaching are more successful than similar students, in a control group, who did not.
They complete developmental math and English at higher rates
They complete college-level math and English at higher rates.
They are retained at a higher rates than their peers, and they progress more quickly in their programs.
As a result, the coached students completion rate is over 7% higher than the control group students.
JLARC recommended that VCCS scale this successful coaching program to all students at our 23 community colleges, with a special focus on those who are at-risk of not completing.
In order to bring that recommendation to scale, the VCCS requests an appropriation of $26 million in the upcoming biennium to support additional coaches and expand our colleges’ capacity to support at-risk students.
In addition, we are finalizing a Strategic Plan for Student Success that is a statewide effort to design a clearly defined advising model based on national best practices;
Our strategic plan projects a 6 percent increase in fall-to-fall retention by 2024, and a 6 percent increase in the number of graduates by 2024.
Let me tell you what that means for the commonwealth. By 2024, we will have an additional 1,550 graduates in the workforce, earning family-sustaining wages. Based on SCHEV’s wage data, our conservative estimate is that these graduates will be contributing approximately $2M annually to Virginia’s general fund.
Serving Military-related Students
Included within the $26M funding request is a plan to build out our successful coaching programs for veterans and military-related students by establishing veteran centers at each of our colleges.
We have those centers at seven of our colleges today. These centers are funded by a previous legislative allocation and are located at the 7 colleges that serve the highest numbers of veteran and military students. However, the need for them exists at all 23 of our colleges because veterans and their families live in all of our communities.
Serving these heroes, and their families, is an honor, of course, But, it isn’t easy. It’s really its own specialty. On top of all the needs of a typical students, these advisors have to be fluent in dealing with:
• Challenges of transitioning from a military to a civilian environment;
• Mental and physical health issues, including PTSD;
• Federal laws and regulations regarding benefit eligibility and all the paperwork required for it; and
• Unique academic advising so that veterans receive credit for prior learning for their training while in uniform.
We thank these men and women for their service. With your help, we can serve them even better.
G-3 College Promise Program
Having those advisors or coaches trained and in place is an important part of implementing our next priority: the Governor’s G-3 College Promise Program.
As the Chancellor often says, our colleges were created to address Virginia’s unmet needs in higher education and workforce training. The Virginia G-3 Promise Program that we are pursuing along with the Governor’s office is designed to do meet both of those goals.
Twenty-four states – including most of Virginia’s neighbors – have enacted some type of college promise program. They differ in terms of size, scope, and specifics. (Tennessee, WVA, MD) For example, NC’s Career & College Promise Program is unique in that it pays full tuition and fees for all dual enrolled high school students.
These programs also give those states a long-term economic advantage over Virginia, attracting both businesses who seek easy access to talent pipelines, and also families who would have to save so much less for their children’s college aspirations.
One thing all of the Promise programs have in common is that they increase college access for poor and minority students and reduce unnecessary college debt.
The Virginia G-3 Promise Program is specifically designed to address the documented workforce needs. That’s what sets G-3 apart.
We began work on this last year, creating accelerated program pathways with grants from the Governor’s office. Faculty at our 23 colleges are restructuring associate degree programs leading to high demand, high wage, or high value jobs in the following industry sectors:
o Computer and Information Sciences;
o Engineering Technologies;
o Protective Services;
o Construction Trades;
o Mechanic and Repair Technologies;
o Precision Production; and
o Health Professions.
The program restructuring, itself, is really key to this work. Not only are faculty breaking traditional associate degree programs into shorter certificates that hold value in the workplace, but they are also building in credit for prior learning for FastForward certifications whenever it is possible to do so.
This new stackable program structure blends short skill-building certificates with work-based learning and rigorous academics to make learning more efficient and seamless.
In today’s economy, students need a postsecondary system designed for lifelong learning – one that delivers more rapid skill-building and credentialing than traditional degree programs have allowed but that also encourages and enables individuals to “drop back in” throughout their working years to continue their education and further develop skills needed to thrive in the future workplace.
As the chancellor mentioned in his opening remarks, the majority of our students attend part-time. Their progress is not a short, straight line. Instead it often zigs and zags with a class or two here and a semester off there. This restructuring creates pathways that are more likely to fit students’ realities, improving the chances that students can complete shorter, stackable credentials of value in the workplace.
Here again, I will underscore the need for more VCCS advisors to support the students who will respond to the G-3 Promise. At-risk students – especially first generation students – don’t know what it is they don’t know. These new program designs are smart and responsive to their life needs. However, without the help of a navigator, college can still be confusing and intimidating.
To increase the pipeline of students enrolling in programs leading to jobs in these high-demand fields, VCCS seeks the General Assembly’s support of a workforce-focused College Promise program in Virginia.
As a last-dollar investment, the Virginia G-3 Promise will encourage more Virginians to participate in postsecondary education (access) and help more students earn a degree or credential of value in the workforce (completion).
This investment will also advance an equity goal of leveling the playing field for all students.
And it will be a valuable tool for our economic developers who are competing regionally and globally for more jobs for Virginia.
College Promise programs in other states have resulted in higher college-going rates, higher completion rates, decreased student debt, and increased lifetime earnings for graduates. We looks forward to working with appropriate constituencies and stakeholder groups to flesh out the details of a Virginia Promise program.
Fast Forward (WCG Grants)
The Virginia G-3 Promise programs, of course, is not the only way we are working to upgrade Virginia’s workforce and meet the specific needs of Virginia’s businesses.
Since its launch three years ago, the FastForward program has placed more than 16,000 non-degree short-term credentials into the Virginia economy.
98% of those credentials have been in Virginia’s top 12 career fields, as defined by employer demand.
People are completing these credentials and getting jobs. They are seeing wage gains of between 25-50%, and many of them are enjoying employer-sponsored health care and paid leave for the first time.
As part of our six-year plan, we aspire to produce an additional 13,000 high-demand, high-value credentials by 2024.
For that to happen, workforce credential grant funding will have to grow as well.
Every $1 million dollars invested in the Workforce Credential Grant program leverages additional funding to generate 1,000 high-demand industry credentials, strengthening the talent pool needed by Virginia’s businesses, moving more Virginians toward family-sustaining wages.
And to bring this back to coaching, one of the reasons that the FastForward program has been such a success is that we have been able to use federal workforce funds to provide a full-time FastForward coach at every college.
Many of these adult students have been laid off from their jobs, and many have never been to college. Their coaches provide support from recruiting to enrolling to career planning and job placement. Unfortunately, Virginia’s state funding for WIOA was cut this year, and funds for the FastForward coaches ends on October 1.
Right now, presidents are scrambling to budget those positions for the remainder of the year because they are so important to the success of the program. If we receive an allocation to increase our advising capacity, this would provide a secure funding stream for these coaches.
Finally, As part of our six-year plan, the VCCS is also offering an Institutional Partnership Performance Agreement proposal to address another important and growing workforce need in Virginia.
The VCCS system office will work in partnership with Northern Virginia Community College and Amazon Web Services, Inc. (AWS) to expand NOVA’s cloud computing associate degree to at least 7 additional colleges in the biennium.
Supply and Demand
When AWS Educate (Amazon’s global education arm) and NOVA approached us last March about this scaling the cloud computing degree statewide, we conducted a labor market analysis to better understand the need.
We found that the number of companies providing cloud computing services is growing astronomically in Virginia. Since September 2016, monthly job postings, requiring these skills, have increased from approximately 5000 per month to 20,000 per month.
Last year in Virginia, there were over 68,000 unique positions requiring these skills and credentials that remained vacant for over 40 days on average. (EMSI/JobsEQ)
Jobs requiring these skills exist over multiple industries and organizations, as more and more companies rely on cloud computing for on-demand data storage and virtual hardware platforms and virtual network resources.
So it seems pretty important for VCCS to respond.
If funded, we plan to select seven colleges based on their readiness and capacity to add the cloud computing degree. NOVA will provide leadership and expertise for this expansion.
Our IPPA proposal includes funding requests for curriculum development and digitalization for online delivery; professional development and credentialing of faculty; equipment upgrades; tuition for high school students to enroll in cloud computing dual enrollment academies; development of work-based learning opportunities and an apprenticeship program; and incentive funding to compensate faculty, based on market demand.
We anticipate a total of 455 students in the pipeline by the end of year two of implementation.
When fully implemented, we project 400-500 graduates per year.
Other states, including California, Wyoming, Rhode Island, Ohio, and Louisiana, are already prioritizing investments in cloud computing education and credentialing. Our proposed performance pilot will help ensure that Virginia remains competitive in the fast-growing market place.
Thank you for your time and attention today. Now, I will turn it back over to Chancellor DuBois, who will share our thinking behind our leading capital request.
Capital Policy Equity
And finally, we are asking for a policy change to help our colleges, especially those serving poor and rural communities.
Virginia’s Community Colleges face a unique requirement when it comes to building approved capital projects. We can’t move forward until local governments commit to pay for the site development costs.
Virginia’s public colleges and universities don’t face this requirement; only community college facilities do.
Ironically, this policy often hurts our smallest colleges the most – the ones serving regions where our projects are needed the most for economic development.
This policy has delayed an important project at Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville and negatively impacted the timely award of a contract replacing the outdated main academic building at Eastern Shore Community College. In fact, action by some of the members of this group were instrumental in moving both of these projects forward.
Perhaps there was a logic to this when the colleges were being created in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Perhaps it made sense to compel localities to have some skin in the game as they jockeyed to be the place where a new college was created. But, that time has passed. The system has been built out. These localities have previously funded site development at these campus sites when originally developed.
In the name of equity, we are seeking your help in removing this unique, outdated, and unfair burden for our colleges seeking to move forward with the approved capital projects that they need to meet community needs.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, let me thank you for the time you share with us to discuss our six-year plan.
Our collaboration directly benefits tens of thousands of Virginians, across every region, as they look to their nearby community college for a chance to build a better future.
While speaking at the ribbon cutting of one of our colleges in 1967, Governor Mills Godwin said, “Whatever else our community colleges may accomplish, they have taught us that we can never again think of a college education as something that belongs to the privileged or the few.”
I would add that opportunity isn’t something that belongs to the privileged or the few.
More coaches and advisors; the promise of the Governor’s G-3 proposal; more grants for short term training programs; a partnership to create more cloud computer workers – these are the steps that we take to ensure a college education and the opportunity it offers isn’t limited to just a select few.
I, and my team, would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
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