Update 9:30 a.m. Aug. 9: The Fast Forward program has issued more than 52,000 credentials since it was created. The Virginia Community College System updated that figure on its website after this story initially was published.
The chancellor of Virginia’s community college system outlined his strategic priorities Tuesday, emphasizing a statewide need to educate students of all ages for the workforce needs of leading industries.
Chancellor David Doré, who joined the system in April, outlined a plan to strengthen the state’s 23 community colleges during an annual retreat for college leaders. The transformation, as Doré described it, will extend community colleges’ impact in their regions and increase productive collaboration with the business sector.
Such a transformation is necessary in part because Virginia’s population of young people has been shrinking, Doré explained. For community colleges to truly serve local populations, he said, they will need to focus on recruiting and catering to adult learners.
More than 3 million adults in Virginia don’t have any education beyond a high school diploma, Doré noted — a statistic that doesn’t just pertain to traditional higher education routes but also to job training and credentialing options.
The state’s community colleges need to use new narratives to attract and retain these adult students, Doré said.
“This new recruitment strategy also requires us to shift our model of service delivery to be student focused instead of institution focused, and align instruction to the places, times and formats that fit students’ busy lives,” he said.
That means going beyond traditional certificate and degree programs to also offer short-term, stackable credentials that allow students to complete training for in-demand careers quickly. And it means quickly launching courses of study that reflect the needs of the business community.
In a panel discussion following his remarks, Doré was joined by state Secretary of Labor Bryan Slater, Virginia Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Barry DuVal, and Virginia Economic Development Partnership President and CEO Jason El Koubi, who echoed the need for collaboration between the business community and community colleges.
DuVal noted that 90% of businesses in Virginia have fewer than 250 people, so they may be too small to have a dedicated human resources office. He encouraged community colleges to reach out to the small business communities in their areas and offer a single point of contact at their school for businesses that need assistance hiring and training new employees.
The panel expressed an interest in promoting continuing education for adults across the state. Education, Doré said, is no longer a “one and done” event; it takes continuous improvement of skills to stay relevant in the workforce.
Doré said the community college system plans to dedicate more resources to growing the Fast Forward program, which offers short training courses ranging from six to 12 weeks.
Programs at each community college campus vary but include utility installation and maintenance, truck-driving classes and emergency medical technician training. Training costs an average of $800, and financial assistance is available for some fields of study. Fast Forward launched in 2016 and has issued more than 52,000 credentials to students pursuing in-demand careers.
Paying attention to the industries that are growing in Virginia is key, Slater said. “We need to train for what the top jobs are right now,” he noted, “not what we want them to be.”