“We need to become comfortable doing uncomfortable work.”  Leaders at Virginia’s Community Colleges gather to kick off ambitious plan to achieve equity in access and outcomes for all students

Home|Blog|“We need to become comfortable doing uncomfortable work.”  Leaders at Virginia’s Community Colleges gather to kick off ambitious plan to achieve equity in access and outcomes for all students

At last week’s Chancellor’s Retreat, which brought together VCCS system and college leaders from across Virginia, nationally known experts painted a picture of challenging but imperative work that lies ahead for Virginia’s Community Colleges.

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The leadership gathering in Roanoke served as a launching pad for Opportunity 2027, the system’s new six-year Strategic Plan, which commits our colleges to “achieve equity in access, learning outcomes, and success for students from every race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic group.”

Leaders acknowledge the plan sets ambitious goals for all VCCS stakeholders. Speakers at the gathering agreed.

Twin pandemics:

Danette HowardBlack and brown students have actually faced “Twin Pandemics,” over the past year and a half, according to Danette Howard, Senior VP and Chief Policy Officer at the Lumina Foundation, noting that the coronavirus pandemic has had disproportionate impact of minority families.  She also argues the nation’s history of systemic racism has harmed students of color with pandemic-like impacts.

“You need to scale up helpful practices and eliminate harmful ones,” said Howard, noting a widespread harmful practice: “National research shows that nearly 70 percent of all community colleges withhold student transcripts because of unpaid fees, some of them nominal.  That practice not only keeps students from continuing their education elsewhere, it can also affect their employment prospects.”

“I think Opportunity 2027 is a bold and ambitious plan that can serve as a blueprint for other community college systems across the nation. And I for one will be watching closely and with great excitement as you move forward, implementing that plan, and making progress on it.”

Wealth gap:

M. CollinsCiting statistics that show Black families persistently trail white families in accumulating and preserving wealth, Michael Collins, VP of Jobs for the Future, challenged community colleges to encourage more students of color to train for higher-income careers.

“Talking about wealth gap numbers is not as dramatic as remembering the Tulsa race massacre, but those statistics are just as devastating to Black Americans,” said Collins.  “We must think about ways that we can disrupt the wealth gap. We have to help Black learners and workers advance in our economy, to be able to get jobs, careers that pay families supporting wages, so they can nurture and care for their families.”

Not an easy job:

Tia Brown“Success will not be easy,” warned Tia Brown McNair, VP for Diversity, Equity and Student Success at the Association of American Colleges & Universities. McNair said bringing Opportunity 2027 to life will “require a lot of professional development, which you put into your strategic plan, but it’s going to be professional development that it will be different than what you’ve been doing before. The questions will be different. The discussions will be different.” McNair added, “when we’re talking about systemic poverty…you have to understand the history and the systems of oppression that our students face and that we must help overcome.”

Getting aboard:

“This is needed, it’s the right thing to do, so let’s get aboard; this ship is sailing,” said Southwest Virginia Community College President Tommy Wright, during a panel discussion responding to the challenges. “We all need to become more comfortable doing uncomfortable work.”

“Opportunity 2027 is gaining dimension, and is coming to life,” said VCCS Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic and Workforce Programs Sharon Morrissey.

Success Story:

“Taking that community college class changed my life.”

The Retreat wrapped up on a personal note as Clayton Turner, director at NASA’s Langley Research Center, traced his career success back to Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York, where he found a supportive environment that boosted his self-confidence.

C. Turner“There will be struggles and challenges, but we have to help students see what their future can be,” said Turner.  “This is hard work. There are no quick solutions, nothing’s going to fit into an election cycle. I don’t care which team is in power on Pennsylvania Avenue.”

“The power we have is to be passionate about helping students navigate, building confidence, and inspiring them to achieve.  And that starts with the person you see in the mirror every morning.”

Learn more about Opportunity 2027 here.

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