VLDS and the Virginia Plan for Higher Education

Author: Tod Massa
July 1, 2016

“Our Students, Our Future” was the theme of SCHEV’s Summit on College Access, Success and Completion. It was outstanding event that began in earnest with Elizabeth Creamer (Office of the Secretary of Commerce and Trade Advisor for Workforce Development) delivering a passionate and personal accounting of the value of higher education, opportunity, and the need for generational leaders – essentially eliminating “first-generation in college” by ensuring opportunity. When she was done both of her fellow panelists, sitting at our table said, “I don’t want to follow that.”

Courtney Brown of the Lumina Foundation reminded us of the foundation’s Goal 2025 “To increase the proportion of Americans with degrees, certificates, and other high quality credentials to 60% by the year 2025.” Courtney provided comparisons of Virginia (50.6%) and the nation (45.3%). Using data from Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce and the US Census, she points to a 17.6% growth in the working age population (25-54) between 2010 and 2040, with 68% of current jobs requiring at least some college. This is almost a complete reversal in demand for credentials when compared to 1973. I believe all of this and more is in Lumina’s Stronger Nation Report. You can read her presentation here.

Next up was the incredible Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, Assistant Professor of Sociology at VCU. Tressie begins with Langston Hughes poem “Mother to Son” to tie the Commonwealth’s goal of being the best educated state by 2030 and Lumina’s Goal 2025, to the simple statistical reality that neither will be achieved without “building a crystal stair” for Virginia’s traditionally under-represented populations. Solving the equity issues in access, success, and completion are key to this success.

Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor --
Bare.
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
-- Langston Hughes, "Mother to Son."

The Virginia Plan for Higher Education at least addresses this challenge with its goal to close the gaps in student success across each sub-group of student populations. It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen without effort. Tressie’s presentation can be found here.


But what does this have to do with VLDS? Pretty much everything.

The Virginia Plan for Higher Education has four goals that touch upon the much of the entirety of education and work life in the Commonwealth:
1) Provide affordable access for all.
2) Optimize student success for work and life.
3) Drive change and improvement through innovation and investment.
4) Advance the economic & cultural prosperity of the Commonwealth and its regions.

For example, providing “affordable access for all” is not just about the funding and cost aspects of college. Providing access includes expanding outreach into K-12 to encourage college participation, but even more, it requires ensuring colleges are ready to meet the needs of the students that will be coming. The needs of these students will span a much greater range of academic and social needs than prior generations. This is part of the nature of a more open and inclusive society - to accommodate a greater range of need and experience. For example, the success of early childhood programs, social service interventions, that address poverty, homelessness, and disability, all play a role in the education continuum leading to improved outcomes for Virginians.

What we learn, what we hope to learn, through using VLDS are the patterns in what has happened through education, the workforce, and social services to allow us to improve services. This is one way we can begin to optimize student success for work and life. Each percentage point improvement in graduation rates, each percentage point increase in workforce participation or further study, leads to greater opportunities for success. This is true for high school diplomas, college degrees at any level, or noncredit workforce credentials.

The promise of what we can achieve, will achieve, through VLDS is change through innovation and investment based on data and research. Finding common themes across successful outcomes will lead agencies to investments and changes to capitalize on those themes. These changes, through the commitment of all of our partners and stakeholders, will lead to greater to economic and cultural prosperity of the Commonwealth. Better services, greater efficiency, and improved outcomes for individual Virginians can’t help but lead to that improved prosperity.

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