Virginia Begins Revamp of Community College System | Community Idea Stations

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Virginia Begins Revamp of Community College System

This morning (11/27/18), Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced plans to realign the state’s community college system with the needs of employers like Amazon.

Right now, there are more jobs available in the Commonwealth than the 2.9% of unemployed Virginians are trained for.

“Some are looking for work, and some are not because they don’t think there’s a job for them or a skill,” said Megan Healy, Northam’s chief workforce development advisor. “It’s a pain point for our companies because they can’t find the talent they need. So this is just re-thinking about how do we align our pipelines to those jobs?”

Most of the available jobs are in healthcare, IT and trade industries like welding and manufacturing. Healy says community college systems will be awarded grants of up to $500,000 in January to help them create pathways directly linked to jobs in these fields. Other potential areas for pathways, Healy says: education and public safety.

The grants will be paid for through a $5 million allocation from Northam’s federal workforce discretionary funds.

“Before we make significant investments in the community college systems, we need to make sure all pathways lead to good jobs,” Northam said.

One of Northam’s goals for the pathway programs: a more streamlined enrollment process on the student’s end. He says students shouldn’t have to figure out whether a credit or non-credit college track is the best fit for them.

“That’s confusing for a student attempting to navigate the community college system,” Northam said. “Instead, the colleges will access each student and find the best pathway to meet his or her needs.”

Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni says the model will include different levels of “stackable accreditation.”

“If a student can demonstrate certain skills and they have the business accreditation, let’s get them in the workforce instead of going through the traditional route of having an associates or four year degree where a lot of other content-based things might be built in,” Qarni said.

That will allow some students to bypass certain pre-requisite classes like English and math and finish a certificate program in as little as one semester.

“Really thinking about the job as the end game for any student that walks through the doors of the community college is really important,” Healy said. “Currently, a lot of times when a student walks through the front door they’re in English and math and humanities classes and then if they drop out or if life happens, they’re not more employable. So really trying to think about how to get them some skills in their back pocket so if they have to drop out, their success would be defined by them getting a job and not college completion.”

Qarni says the stackable accreditation system allows students to jump back into their education and advance their career later on, if they choose to do so. Healy says she envisions three main tracks: basic, advanced and career-level skills.

Enrollment in the new pathway programs is expected to begin in fall 2020.