Virginia’s State Board for Community Colleges has adopted Opportunity 2027, a Strategic Plan that will guide Virginia’s Community Colleges over the next six years. The plan goes into effect July 1, 2021, and has this over-arching goal:
Virginia’s Community Colleges will achieve equity in access, learning outcomes, and success for students from every race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic group.
The task force that created Opportunity 2027 developed a definition of equity to provide a common understanding of this value within the context of the work of our colleges. This definition recognizes the work that must occur to overcome the systemic issues that have been and continue to be barriers to student success in Virginia’s Community Colleges:
Equity is the existence of an environment in which policies, practices, and beliefs are grounded in the principle of fairness and that acknowledges structural racism, gender disparities, and systemic poverty, while honoring the diversity of humanity. This environment explicitly prioritizes the success of all students to ensure that they have the necessary resources to fulfill their college and career goals.
The equity definition builds on the Policy Statement on Diversity and Inclusion that the State Board for Community Colleges adopted in 2012:
The Virginia Community College System is committed to fostering, cultivating, and sustaining a culture of diversity and inclusion. The VCCS acknowledges the vital impact of a diverse and inclusive community on academic programs, on workforce development and other training, and on the larger communities served by our colleges. Students from diverse backgrounds, taught by faculty and assisted by staff from similarly diverse backgrounds, benefit from an abundant educational experience that prepares them for success in an increasingly interconnected and multi-cultural world. Therefore, it is the policy of the Virginia Community College System to employ and retain individuals that reflect our diverse society. A culture of diversity and inclusion shall be manifest in all dimensions of Virginia’s Community Colleges.
Why This Plan?
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the social justice movement inspired by the death of George Floyd and others, and its own challenges in serving Virginians of color, the Virginia’s Community College System created Opportunity 2027, a new six-year strategic plan laser focused on eliminating equity gaps across its 23 institutions.
The plan addresses program delivery modalities, teaching and learning practices, remote services, integrated student supports, funding and financing of colleges, and the future of work. The task force that created the plan examined disaggregated data to inform goals, strategies, and metrics for the six-year plan. The numbers revealed deep inequities in how students are supported as they enroll in and complete their education. For example, even though Black students are our second largest student population,
- Only a third of Black students who apply to one of our colleges enroll.
- In the last five years, Black student enrollment declined by more than 12,000 students.
- Only one out of five first-time, full-time Black students completed a community college credential or degree of any type in three years.
- Fewer Black students are graduating today from Virginia’s Community Colleges than did just five years ago, despite increasing graduation rates for all other historically minoritized groups across all our colleges.
Those and other facts underscore the urgent need to address the impact of systemic racism on student achievement. In doing so, we seek to close equity gaps and expand access to opportunity to all Virginians.
Five Supporting Goals
The strategic goal is supported by five supporting goals, each with detailed strategies and objectives for the first biennium.
Supporting Goal 1:
Ensure that Virginia’s Community Colleges are equipped to deliver on the promise of the equity goal by ensuring that all internal and external constituencies understand why the goal is necessary to provide a talent pipeline for Virginia employers. Virginia’s Community Colleges will launch a systemwide campaign to build awareness of the equity goal and provide intentional support to engage faculty and staff in understanding how the equity goal is reflected in their students and the communities they serve.
Strategy 1: Establish a Communications Committee to support development of a system level communication plan for the strategic plan and to support colleges in their own communication plan development.
Strategy 2: Establish and promote Virginia’s Community Colleges as the primary training provider in the Commonwealth for businesses seeking to ensure a sustainable supply of workers with the skills and credentials required to be competitive.
Biennial Objectives (2021-2023):
- Create and share broadly across the colleges a case document that introduces the equity definition; describes equity in access, learning outcomes, and success; and includes contextualized data to support the equity goal and engage faculty and staff in understanding how the equity goal is reflected in their students and the communities they serve.
- Develop college and system branding that promotes community colleges as the most efficient and responsive training solution for businesses.
Supporting Goal 2:
Provide all students with access to high impact practices that support educational excellence and equity in student success through the development of a world class cadre of diverse employees focused on equity-minded principles and practices.
Strategy I: Invest in development of a world-class cadre of diverse full-time and adjunct faculty who are focused on equity-minded principles and practices in teaching and learning and committed to student success.
Strategy 2: Adopt common equity-focused high impact teaching practices and provide professional development to support their inclusion in the curriculum.
Strategy 3: Develop and implement intentional strategies to improve learning outcomes, deepen student connections, perform equity-driven curriculum review, and ensure program cohesion for successful entry into the workplace or seamless transfer.
Biennial Objectives (2021-2023):
- Implement recruiting strategies and hiring practices that advance the goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the search and selection process for all employees.
- Engage all employees in professional development and meaningful dialogue to broaden understanding of equity gaps in student success.
- Evaluate existing and identify new faculty recruitment and retention strategies to attract and retain qualified and diverse faculty and ensure that how we hire is reflective of our college communities.
- Create an onboarding toolkit for new faculty that provides mentorship and guidance for success and retention and ensures that faculty have what they need to be successful in a diverse teaching environment.
- Evaluate existing faculty professional development programs with an eye towards professional development that focuses on equity-based, high-impact teaching and learning practices in support of the strategic plan.
- Review and revise the faculty evaluation process so that it incorporates measurable SMART Goals, encourages faculty ownership and accountability, inspires high performance, and includes feedback that supports faculty development and growth.
- Engage faculty discipline teams in an equity-driven review of curriculum content for cultural responsiveness and representation.
- Improve program cohesion through full implementation of guided pathways, including intentional redesign of the Student Development (SDV) courses; revision of transfer programs to include major pathway maps designed to make transfer seamless and efficient; and implementation of stackable credentials, work-based learning, and capstone courses to ensure students’ readiness to enter the workforce. Fully utilize Navigate to create program pathways that inform students of milestones in their progress.
Supporting Goal 3:
Provide all students with a culture of care that responds to the needs of our diverse student population and supports and inspires their educational and career success.
Strategy 1: Provide faculty and staff with disaggregated data and professional development in cross-cultural understanding to assist in identifying and supporting student needs.
Strategy 2: Assess existing technology platforms and provide new tools needed by students, staff, and faculty to remove barriers to success.
Strategy 3: Foster an environment that recognizes the value of diversity and prioritizes equitable outcomes for students.
Strategy 4: Identify specific barriers that lead to equity disparities in application and enrollment processes and develop plans to reduce equity gaps in onboarding processes across all student groups.
Biennial Objectives (2021-2023):
- Conduct process mapping of the student onboarding process to identify specific policy and process barriers that lead to equity disparities and develop new enrollment processes to reduce equity gaps.
- Develop a comprehensive onboarding and student lifecycle process which includes the assignment of students to appropriate support staff within a Support Network
- Create a career concierge approach that guides students to the right educational choices for their career goals and upon which students may continue to rely on over the course of their careers
- Provide students with connections to programs and community resources that address non-academic barriers to success.
- Develop the knowledge and strengthen the skills of existing and future student support leadership and their staff through intentional and strategic professional development with emphasis on equity and student success.
- Provide professional development on financial resources to front-line support staff to equip them to be able to respond accurately to most student inquiries.
- Assess, align, and/or replace existing technology tools to meet the needs of students and campus stakeholders. Fully utilize Navigate to create program pathways that inform students of milestones in their progress.
- Advocate for state funding to increase the number of full-time professional advisors to create acceptable advising caseloads and ensure continuity of academic and nonacademic support for students.
Supporting Goal 4:
Provide all students with the knowledge, skills, credentials, and degrees that enable them to thrive in dynamic and emerging 21st century careers shaped by the future of work.
Strategy 1: Implement policies and practices that will ensure Virginia’s Community Colleges are recognized as the primary training provider in the Commonwealth for students seeking careers or seamless transfer and businesses needing workers to be competitive in the 21st century economy.
Strategy 2: Ensure all colleges develop and leverage strong partnerships with business and industry so that every program prepares well-qualified workers for current and emerging workforce demands.
Strategy 3: Guide every student to choose the right educational pathway to achieve his or her career goals by employing labor market information and career development strategies.
Strategy 4: Build academic schedules that prioritize the needs of students and expand access to all students, regardless of their geographic location or socioeconomic status, to ensure they can get the courses they need when they need them.
Biennial Objectives (2021-2023):
- Align curricular content with the expressed business needs of employers, including periodic review and updates by business advisory groups; develop methods and schedules to update all credentialing programs with a frequency that ensures consistent alignment with industry changes.
- Initiate more comprehensive and aligned policies and processes to accelerate time to completion by expanding credit for prior learning, integrating workforce and academic instruction, and providing greater access to internship and apprenticeship opportunities. Develop a system-wide model for offering work-based or cooperative learning programs at all colleges.
- Implement year-round 8-week terms, flexible hybrid course delivery models, quality certified online courses, competency-based delivery, and other strategies to meet students’ scheduling needs and move them more quickly through their programs.
- Provide professional development on labor market information, careers, programs, and transfer pathways for advisors who onboard students to enable them to guide students effectively in selecting program majors.
- Pursue resources for new program start-up to allow colleges to proactively address changing workforce needs and provide ongoing career development for students.
- Disaggregate data reflecting student outcomes by program to identify inequities and propose policy and practical solutions to address those barriers.
Supporting Goal 5:
Provide all students with access to affordable college educations that support their need for financial flexibility while also supporting the vitality and sustainability of our colleges.
Strategy 1: Determine average system-wide cost of educational delivery for selected high-demand, high-cost programs—and understand any local cost variances–with an eye towards expanding access for historically minoritized populations.
Strategy 2: Develop policy to allow course fee structures that include the costs of required materials and examinations for certification/licensure.
Strategy 3: Publish “all inclusive” pricing that reflects full cost of education, including materials and certification exams.
Strategy 4: Develop the framework for a student financial services ecosystem at each of Virginia’s Community Colleges, a “one stop” destination where students’ financial needs (tuition, books, life expenses, etc.) are addressed in a holistic, integrated manner.
Biennial Objectives (2021-2023):
- Provide professional development across functional areas to strengthen budget forecasting and state board tuition discussions.
- Identify high-demand, high-cost programs with low enrollment of historically minoritized populations and develop strategies to promote program expansion and equitable enrollment representation.
- Study the costs of required professional certification and licensure examinations and develop a policy to allow such fees to be included as program fees, and thus eligible to be covered by federal or state financial aid.
- Develop a policy to require colleges to identify all program costs (including books, uniforms, tools, supplies, etc.) and publish the actual student price per program on college websites and in catalogs.
- Establish a work group of chief financial officers to study tuition rates that reflect the actual cost of education by program and make recommendations to the Chancellor.
- Convene a summit of college finance, student services, and institutional research staff to define “holistic integrated student financial ecosystem practices,” document best practices for holistic financial supports among institutions, and evaluate best-in-class models at other public and two-year colleges.
- Explore professional development needs among financial services, academic and student support staff to close knowledge gaps about current funding and financial aid regulations and to implement best practices for student financial services.
- Address any policy areas needed to facilitate a holistic, integrated student financial ecosystem as defined by the group and maintain proper financial controls.
Retreat Videos for Strategic Plan
Opportunity 2027 was officially launched in August 2021 during the Chancellor’s Retreat, an annual meeting that brings together college presidents, their boards and the leadership teams from all 23 community colleges with the members of the State Board and agency partners.
In addition to the presentations at the event, participants heard Virginia business leaders discuss some of the challenges and opportunities facing Virginia and her Community Colleges. Those recordings are available to view below.