If you like change, you’re going to LOVE the next few years at Virginia’s Community Colleges.
In the near term, the governor’s office is calling on VCCS to redesign its Career Technical Education degree programs to front-load skills training before students take general education courses. The makeover is the result of Governor Ralph Northam’s “G3” workforce initiative and is designed to prepare more Virginians to succeed in the 21st century economy.
That’s just the beginning.
“We have a chance to redesign our onboarding processes and our workforce education programs to better integrate credit and noncredit pathways for students,” said Sharon Morrissey, VCCS senior vice chancellor for Academic and Workforce Programs.
“We have an opportunity to create one door into our institutions: one door that helps students clarify their career and educational goals and puts them on the appropriate pathway, whether that is completing a GED, earning a short-term professional certification, completing a technical degree, or transferring to a university,” Morrissey added.
The Hire Ed conference is the VCCS’s traditional gathering of community college leaders, workforce development professionals, partner agencies, board members and elected officials.
VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois focused on a somewhat longer view, telling the conference that demographic trends in the next decade will upend the world of higher education.
“We are in the midst of an historic enrollment decline,” said DuBois, noting Virginia’s Community Colleges have been losing students for seven straight years since their high-water mark in 2012.
DuBois said VCCS colleges are serving 64,000 fewer students now compared to 2012, and more than two-thirds of the lost students were adult learners, aged 25 and older.
“The future of our colleges – and it may not be overly dramatic to say that the future of Virginia – depends on our ability to get those adult students back,” said DuBois.
“We need to take a hard look at what we do, and how we do it, to win back those students.” The chancellor’s message was a continuation of a call to action that he sounded earlier in the fall.
DuBois makes it clear VCCS is not abandoning its traditional academic programs or its service to students aged 18-24. But with the nation’s birthrate at an all-time low, he noted predictions that there will be a dramatic drop in numbers of traditional college age students starting in 2026. At the same time, the numbers of adults in the population will grow.
So, the best future growth opportunities for colleges in the next decade appear to be in workforce training programs aimed at serving adults. Many need new skills to pull themselves out of poverty. Others need new skills to meet the ever-changing demands of the workplace.
DuBois argues VCCS already has a model to help lead the transition: FastForward, the system’s emerging short-term workforce training program aimed at producing skilled workers for in-demand jobs.
“FastForward is our fastest-growing program, and it’s filling critical needs in Virginia’s workforce,” said DuBois.
“FastForward is recovering some of those adults we’re losing. Students in our training programs are older, typically in their mid-30s to mid 40’s. FastForward is just the beginning. The responsibility is ours to create opportunities that attract these adults, not intimidate them.”
VCCS also has an opportunity and an obligation to help more working families that have trouble making ends meet, argues DuBois.
“The people we serve today are struggling with the basics of life in ways that I never had to, and I didn’t grow up in a wealthy family.
“I’ve worked in community college education for 38 years now. It never ceases to amaze me how things continue to change.”
You can read the full text of the Higher Education speeches by Dr. DuBois and Dr. Morrissey, here.
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