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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Virginia Rural Community Colleges Make Comeback After Pandemic

FastForward at Virginia’s Community Colleges is described as “a short-term training program for high-demand industries.” (VCCS)

RICHMOND — Community colleges across Virginia are rebounding from the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Virginia Community College System, the fall 2022 semester was the first time community college enrollment grew since 2011. Part of this is attributed to schools redesigning programs.

A report from the Aspen Institute finds Virginia’s Patrick and Henry Community College built a strong network of small employers to avoid an over-reliance on only a few large ones.

Dr. Sharon Morrissey (VCCS)

Sharon Morrissey, Ph.D. — senior vice chancellor for academic and workforce programs at the Virginia Community College System — said the Fast Forward program has bolstered the state’s rural community colleges.

“It is our fastest growing program in the community college system,” said Morrissey. “It provides training for individuals in programs that lead to good jobs in high-paying jobs in high-demand fields that have some kind of an industry certification or a license associated with them.”

She added that while these programs are attractive to adult students, the biggest challenge is financing.

But the growth of community colleges is a national trend.

A report from Columbia University finds national enrollment in community colleges increased by almost 17,000 students during the fall 2022 semester — the first time enrollment grew since the start of the pandemic.

Along with systemwide initiatives from VCCS, some schools are also taking the reins on their own futures.

Southside Virginia Community College’s Aspire 2027 plan addresses recovering from the pandemic by examining student learning opportunities. Quentin Johnson, Ph.D. — Southside’s president — described one of the plan’s goals.

“The first component is student success,” said Johnson. “We want to promote student prosperity by advancing student completion and post-graduation success. We want to increase student enrollment, particularly for underrepresented and underserved populations.”

Other elements of the plan include community engagement, providing students with quality learning opportunities, and maintaining a healthy work environment focused on inclusion and innovation.

Support for this reporting is provided by Lumina Foundation.

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