Editor’s note: On June 13, the VCCS State Board chose the system’s Senior Vice-Chancellor for Academic and Workforce Programs, Sharon Morrissey, to be Interim Chancellor while the Board launches a new search for a permanent leader for our 23-college system. As she prepared to take the helm, Dr. Morrissey discussed some of her priorities for the coming months, via our Take Five Q&A:
1. Virginia’s Community Colleges serve about 250,000 thousand academic-track and workforce/career training students every year. With colleges across the state and programs underway virtually year-round, you’re taking leadership of an organization that’s already in motion, aren’t you?
Yes, and I’m grateful to have this opportunity to serve in an interim capacity while our Board continues its search for a permanent Chancellor. I know that we can’t simply hit the “pause” button while the search is underway. I plan to keep this system moving forward.
2. How will you do that?
I have three goals I hope to achieve during the interim period. The first is to rebuild stability, unity, and trust in the VCCS. The last several months have been unsettling for all of us. We need to remember that we are strong together, and we need to build on that strength. We must work together to fulfill our mission so that every Virginian has the opportunity to learn and develop the right skills so that lives and communities are strengthened.
Second: build a strong partnership with the Governor’s Office to align our workforce training priorities and build on the successes of our short-term workforce training programs. I also want the Governor’s Office to know about the great work SCHEV and VCCS have accomplished over the past three years to align transfer programs and create efficient pathways for the thousands of students who transfer every year.
The third goal, of course, is to conduct the business of the VCCS. First and foremost, that means collaborating with presidents, SCHEV, the Governor’s Office and other stakeholders to develop our legislative strategy for the upcoming session of the General Assembly.
3. You mentioned we’ve been through an unsettling period, but there have also been some major achievements, haven’t there?
Absolutely, and we should definitely celebrate the great work our colleges have done to improve access, funding, and success for students. Here are just a few examples:
4. What do you see as some of the big challenges we’ll face in the near term?
I see two big challenges: affordability and enrollment. We need to keep the cost of a community college education in Virginia as low as possible for our working families and low-income students. Fortunately, the state budget for our new fiscal year that started July 1 provides the additional resources we need to forego a tuition increase. And later this month, I will recommend to our VCCS State Board no tuition increase for the upcoming academic year.
At the same time, our colleges are feeling the budget impact of inflation. This will be our fifth consecutive year without a tuition increase, and I am not sure how much longer our colleges will be able to meet their cost obligations without increasing tuition.
Now, about enrollments: I am cautiously optimistic that our enrollment decline will slow or perhaps start to reverse over the next two years. Collectively, we are doing the right things and taking the right steps to remove barriers and provide better advising and support. We are engaging business and industry leaders to make sure our programs are aligned with in-demand skills. We are redesigning programs to create more efficient transfer pathways and stackable credentials.
When Virginians decide they need to return to college to obtain a high-quality industry recognized credential or enroll in a workforce education program that leads to an in-demand career or take the affordable path to a baccalaureate degree by starting at a community college, we are ready.
5. For our thousands of colleagues around Virginia who don’t work at our system office and haven’t learned more about you, tell us a little about yourself.
Well, for the past several years, it’s been my privilege to serve as Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic and Workforce Programs in the Virginia Community College System, where I’ve been responsible for state-level coordination of workforce education and college transfer programs, instructional and student support services, research and reporting, federal program administration, and related policy development for our 23 community colleges.
I came to Virginia’s Community Colleges in 2014. Prior to that, I had a 26-year career in higher education in North Carolina, where I served as Executive Vice President for Programs and Chief Academic Officer for the North Carolina Community College System. I also served as President of Richmond Community College in Hamlet, NC, Vice President for Instruction at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, and Vice President for Academic and Student Services at Fayetteville Technical Community College. I began my community college career as an English instructor at Central Carolina Community College.