Editor’s note: Former Virginia governor Gerald Baliles died October 29 at age 79 after a long battle with cancer. He was widely regarded as one of modern Virginia’s most consequential governors during his term 1986-1990. In addition to leading major transportation improvements, Baliles also was a major champion of education, and community college education in particular, serving later as chairman to the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education in 2014 and 2015.
“During his first year in office, Governor Baliles provided millions of dollars in additional funding to decrease community college tuition for the first time in VCCS history,” said VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois. “During my time as chancellor, I got to work with Governor Baliles on a shared passion: increasing college attainment rates in rural Virginia.”
Patrick Henry Community College, in Baliles’s native Patrick County, has created a PHCC scholarship in his honor, to be awarded to a Patrick Henry High School graduate who plans a career in public service.
“Governor Baliles embodied all that is good, worthy, and beautiful about the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said PHCC President Angeline Godwin. “He loved his state, and he loved his home of ‘Patrick,’ as he affectionately called Patrick County. At PHCC we are forever grateful for his vision and dedication, and most of all, his love for education.”
“Let’s start with one unalterable fact: An education will not guarantee a good job. But without an education, the person seeking that proverbial good job is virtually guaranteed that he or she won’t find one.” – Gerald Baliles, promoting the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative, Feb. 2013
As a Virginia lawmaker, state attorney general, governor, influential lawyer and then director of the prestigious Miller Center at UVA, Gerald Baliles spent much of his career in close proximity to Virginia’s urban power centers. But it’s clear he did not forget his roots in tiny Patrick County in Southwest Virginia.
Always an advocate for education, Baliles created the Patrick County Education Foundation (PCEF) in 2001 with a goal to change the culture of the county, boost high school graduation and GED attainment rates, promote college and workforce training and thereby make Patrick County more attractive to employers.
PCEF met its goals, and a little more than a decade later, Baliles took the lead again. Partnering with the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education (VFCCE), Baliles spearheaded the creation of the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative (RVHI) in 2013 to boost educational and economic opportunities for Virginians far removed from the state’s business centers. Fourteen of our colleges serve the far-flung region.
The Rural Horseshoe stretches from Eastern Shore across Southside and Southwest Virginia, up the Shenandoah Valley and then back eastward toward the Northern Piedmont. The area comprises about three-quarters of Virginia’s geographic area.
More than 2 million people live in the Rural Horseshoe, and if it were a separate state, it would rank 50th in the nation in educational attainment. Nineteen percent of adults there did not graduate high school.
Baliles knew the challenge was daunting, but was undeterred. And he knew the long- term costs to all Virginians if one region continued to lag behind the rest of the commonwealth. His admonition informs the VFCCE’s main document that makes the case for the RVHI:
“There are costs that come from a citizenry that is not prepared to deal with a rapidly changing world—and they will be borne by all of Virginia, regardless of where those costs occur.”
“We are grateful for the leadership of Governor Baliles for this remarkable program,” said Jennifer Gentry, Vice Chancellor of Institutional Advancement for Virginia’s Community Colleges and Executive Director of the VFCCE. “His work to highlight the needs of rural Virginia has been transformative and produced lasting results for tens of thousands of students across the Rural Horseshoe. We are very proud to continue this initiative and to see it grow and thrive.”
The Foundation has announced $1.5 million in funding through the RVHI in the current academic year to promote rural education. Virginia community colleges receiving and matching RVHI funding for the 2019-2020 academic year include Blue Ridge, Dabney S. Lancaster, Eastern Shore, Lord Fairfax, Mountain Empire, Paul D. Camp, Patrick Henry, Rappahannock, Southside Virginia, and Southwest Virginia.
Shortly before his family announced Baliles’s health status, the former governor made a point of being on hand as Patrick Henry Community College opened new state-of-the-art workforce training facilities in the town of Stuart on August 27.
“He was the unquestionable linchpin in PHCC’s recent Patrick County expansion, said Greg Hodges, PHCC vice president of academic and student success services. “His tireless efforts in advancing the educational and economic wellbeing of this region will be felt for generations.”
Said Angeline Godwin, PHCC president, “Governor Baliles is a champion of education, who sees teaching and learning as the cornerstone of our economic well-being. PHCC has been the beneficiary of his vision and passion as we offer education and training to the citizens of our service region.”
Learn more about the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative, one of the VFCCE’s signature programs, here.
Learn more about the new Gerald L. Baliles Public Service Scholarship here.