Editorial: Lack of Advertising Impacts Virginia Community College Enrollment | Editorial
Across Virginia, enrollment is down for state community colleges.
The most recent statistic from the Virginia State Board of Higher Education shows a steady decline in overall enrollment across all racial/ethnic groups. The number of students enrolled in 2021 was 144,215, up from 197,226 ten years ago. During this period, enrollment fluctuated among some groups.
A leadership change is coming, as the State Board for Community Colleges recently appointed Russell A. Kavalhuna to oversee the 23 schools of the Virginia Community College System. Kavalhuna will succeed Glenn DuBois who is retiring at the end of June. Kavalhuna is a former federal prosecutor and previously served as president of Henry Ford College, a community college in Michigan.
During the hiring process, Governor Glenn Youngkin expressed his displeasure in a letter and criticized the state’s board of directors for not giving his administration more information, as reported by The Times- dispatch. Youngkin also said the board needs to do more to boost enrollment and help fill some 300,000 open jobs across Virginia.
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This is something that Ron Taylor, chairman of the Hampton Roads Black Caucus, has highlighted in regards to the black community and job seekers. The Virginia Beach-based nonprofit organization focuses its work on the African American community to ensure its representation in the political process and to improve economic and educational opportunities, among other goals.
The group says there is evidence that community colleges are not connected enough to workforce development programs to help students find jobs.
“It’s a disconnect somewhere, and they have to be connected to mesh together … to fill those jobs,” Taylor said.
The VCCS has a $1 billion budget and most schools have some sort of compatible workforce development component. But it can also be argued that state community colleges need to advertise better, or at least spend more money on marketing to reach potential students instead of waiting for them to find the programs.
It’s a statewide problem for the entire VCCS, which doesn’t release enough information, says Jonathan Romero, RN and board member of the Thomas Nelson (now Virginia Peninsula) Community College.
“(Community colleges) think you can just sit down and people will come to them. It was the old model. And it just doesn’t work. You have to compete for these students,” Romero said.
This is what a variety of for-profit schools have traditionally done.
According to a Brookings Institution study, using the most recent data available, “for-profit companies account for 40% of ad spend while educating 6% of students, outpacing nonprofit colleges by 4 to 1 and public colleges 20 to 1 per student.”
Evidence can be seen in numerous billboards along interstate highways or in the daily stream of daytime television ads when job seekers are most likely to see program offerings.
Some of that spending at for-profit schools has leveled off since the pandemic, while spending at large private nonprofits has increased. But community colleges need to catch up.
A built-in selling point, at least in Virginia, is the new G3 program – Learn a Skill, Get a Job, Get Ahead – which began in 2021. The program offers tuition assistance for students falling under a specific income level and pursuing high education. -areas of demand, such as information technology or skilled trades. G3 is also a last dollar program as it makes up the difference after considering other grants, scholarships or financial aid.
“I wish he was (available) when I was younger,” Romero said. “It allows you to go to college, and they’ll pay top dollar. They will cover the difference.
At Thomas Nelson, the school is moving towards a greater focus on workforce development and has separated the component into its own department.
The school also partnered with Goodwill of Central and Coastal Virginia to create the Center for Building and Construction Trades. The program is aligned with the college to provide workforce training leading to employment. Located in a warehouse, it replicates real apartment and building maintenance jobsites, HVAC, electrical and plumbing technicians.
“You can have a career. It’s a solid path to a middle-class life… for someone who otherwise wouldn’t have had it,” Romero said. “With these other programs that let you go to school for free, the only thing we’re missing is that we don’t advertise them.”
Another program, FastForward, launched in 2016, is an accelerated training program for high-demand industries offered by community colleges in Virginia. It usually takes a few months and students can work while earning their degree.
Around the state, there are also several independent workforce development programs or councils designed to help train and turn people into jobs. But Taylor believes community colleges need to be in greater partnership or “in tune” with them.
Taylor says the State Community College board should work with the new chancellor to advise him on what’s missing.
“What is the trend? Where are we going to need people? Taylor said. “Then we need to revamp our program and talk to college presidents and work with our workforce development across the state, whatever region you are in and look and see what the demand is. jobs … and trying to train our people for those jobs.
But the community needs to know that these programs exist. Budgets and funding for most nonprofit community colleges are dependent on enrollment.
Perhaps in his new role as chancellor, Kavalhuna may want to treat VCCS more like a business, not to make a profit, but to better market what these schools have to offer.
This can lead to the injection of life that community colleges need.