TO: All VCCS employees
FROM: Glenn DuBois
DATE: May 11, 2010
RE: Rethinking Virginia’s Community Colleges

Dear colleague,             

Thank you for the response to my email last month about the work of the VCCS Reengineering Taskforce. 

To date, I have received dozens of emails from our fellow employees – with responses from each of our 23 community colleges – and you have visited the reengineering web site thousands of times.

Every email I receive has been passed along to the Reengineering Taskforce.

The website can be found at http://rethink2.wpengine.com/.  You can also link to it from the homepage of the VCCS website.   

This month I would like to respond to some of the questions and thoughts you have sent my way.

Let’s start with a question from an employee at Blue Ridge Community College.

Could very small colleges be folded into a nearby larger college?writes one employee.

The answer is no.  While it is important to rethink the way we operate, we will emerge from this process with the same 23 community colleges we have today. Each of our colleges plays a prominent and unique role in the communities they serve. Meddling with that, I am convinced, will not benefit our students, our communities or our colleges.

Student success was a popular concern among those who sent in responses.

I think we see way too many students who do not reach completion and do not graduate,” wrote an employee from Danville Community College.

I have one student now who first started around 1992,” wrote a Virginia Highlands Community College instructor.  “[She] stopped out many times, and is now back once again trying to complete her degree.  She has yet to complete her development work.”

The way Virginia’s Community Colleges offer developmental education is a significant topic for the taskforce.  Our current results are insufficient. 

Throughout our work on the Dateline 2009 strategic plan we won respect for talking about the challenge of student success publicly when few others would. The time for just talking about the challenge is over. We must demonstrate progress. In our new strategic plan, Achieve 2015, we articulate significant stretch goals for student success. We are counting on the ideas from the reengineering taskforce and their implementation to help us get there.

I received some contradictory advice about how we should offer community college education.

Emphasize online learning, particularly for introductory courses, as course delivery is a lot cheaper,” wrote an employee at Northern Virginia Community College.

We need more teachers on the ground…Gosh, where would you and I have been without face to face teachers,” wrote another employee from Lord Fairfax Community College.

Technology is pervasive for students in a way that it was not when I attended college.  Typing, texting and tweeting is natural for today’s students. Yet, the percentage of students who need developmental education remains unchanged in this information age. The taskforce is exploring how we can maximize the usage of technology to enhance student success. Finding that point isn’t easy but it is critical.

And finally, I would like to respond to one employee who seems to challenge the entire mission of Virginia’s Community Colleges.

I, along with most other community-college [sic] professors, would strongly disagree with your contention that all agree more college graduates are necessary,” wrote an employee from Thomas Nelson Community College.

What are needed are not more college graduates but fewer college graduates,” he continued.  “A college degree will soon have the same prestige as a high-school [sic] diploma — none, in other words.”

Virginia’s Community Colleges were founded more than 40 years ago, as you probably know, to address the Commonwealth’s unmet needs in higher education and workforce training. In other words, our community colleges were established to do that which other institutions would not do: enhance the access of Virginia’s sons and daughters to a college education.

That’s our role. That’s our mission. That’s our DNA.

Without fail, if you compare any two regions similar in size and population you will find that the one inhabited by better educated individuals will have a higher quality of life; median and average income; voter participation record; and more and better-paying jobs.

We understood this as a nation through much of the 20th century and because of that we truly were the land of opportunity. Other nations took note and made the attainment of higher education a priority. As a result, they rank as more competitive on international assessments than the United States.

That doesn’t sit well with me.

Today, opportunity seeks out talent and it will go anywhere in the world to find it.  The winners of the 21st century will be the communities that maximize their homegrown talent through postsecondary education.

And on a personal note, I can’t imagine looking my son in the eye and telling him to stop attending college because his degree will devalue the college degrees his sisters have earned.  Moreover, I can’t imagine that any parent would be willing to do that.

Individuals want their future to be better.  Earning a postsecondary credential is the closest thing we have in America to a guarantee of a better future.

Virginia’s Community Colleges play a critical role in that and, as Chancellor, I’m not backing down from it.  None of us should.

I will continue to email you as our reengineering work continues.  I invite you to email me with thoughts or questions you may have about it.  The email address for that (an email address that comes directly to me) is rethink@vccs.edu.  I will be happy to pass along interesting thoughts to the appropriate taskforce members and may even discuss them with you and our colleagues in a future email message.

Thank you for your ideas and thoughts for this process and thank you for your hard work every day at your community college.

Sincerely,

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