Virginia community colleges have long been a central part of education in the Commonwealth – providing technical and continuing education, producing job-ready graduates, and supporting surrounding communities.
Last year, the Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back (G3) program was launched to invest in educational pipelines for high-demand areas such as healthcare, education and hospitality for young people. Low and middle income Virginians. Record investments in higher education have been made over the past two years and are again in the budget proposed by the State Senate this year.
Community colleges are also a critical resource for minority communities and students from historically underfunded neighborhoods. And with recent efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels of public education and throughout the state workforce, these communities will continue to be strengthened. and represented. In fact, that representation extends to the leadership of our 23 community colleges in Virginia. Ten community college presidents are women and six are black.
However, these advances and investments are under attack from Governor Glenn Youngkin and his allies. While slashing investment and removing any mention of equity from the state’s education guidance or the cabinet-level diversity office, they simultaneously blame community colleges for failing minority communities. By these intentional and manipulative actions that undermine higher education in Virginia, they are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that will force community colleges to fail in the future.
Enrollment is picking up now as in-person classes resume and more Virginians find themselves pursuing those high-need G3 careers; therefore, community colleges play a critical role in supporting a strong post-pandemic labor pool. In order to continue to be the #1 state for business, Virginia needs to invest in the next generation of employees — and much of that investment needs to be directed to our community colleges.
Community colleges are often underappreciated cornerstones of public education in the Commonwealth that require our continued attention and investment, instead of unwarranted criticism and contrived claims of failure. Youngkin must recognize the truth that our community colleges are amazing and diverse places to learn. Virginia has campuses in rural communities, inner cities, and everywhere in between, serving students of all ages and aspirations. Undermining the overall equity achievements that contribute to these institutions’ ability to provide life-changing educational opportunities, in turn, undermines the ability of Virginians to learn, grow and thrive.
Here is the truth:
In 2021, Virginia had the strongest economy, which is directly attributed to the investments made in our world-class education system, workforce, and statewide DEI infrastructure, winning the CNBC designation of Best State for Business in 2019, holding up through the 2020 pandemic, and again in 2021. No other state has ever done this.
Virginia offered free community college to areas of high need in early childhood education, public safety, health care, information technology, manufacturing, and trades specialized. These programs were optimized in a few weeks and saw a record number of commitments and registrations from interested students.
In 2021, Virginia made the largest investment ever in historically black colleges and universities, including more than $500 million in these chronically underfunded institutions.
Progress in Virginia and our community college system should be the subject of healthy debate, but recent critics — many of whom have for decades supported policies that have harmed our community colleges and the black community in particular – must recognize the truth about our condition. growth and advancement. Our progress cannot be denied, but it must continue with relevant legislation and fiscal investments for the health of our state and our economy.
Youngkin has an opportunity and an obligation to be honest about the state of education in the Commonwealth, acting to prioritize funding and support for our 23 community colleges, its leaders and our students, who are the future and backbone of our Virginia workforce and communities.
Janice Underwood, Ph.D., served as Virginia’s Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion under Governor Ralph Northam. She is a national DEI thought leader in PreK-12, higher education, government, and the private sector. Senator Mamie Locke, Ph.D.represents the 2nd District in the Virginia Senate and is a retired professor at Hampton University.