Virginia has one of the better educated workforces among the 50 states. The Old Dominion ranked 4th nationally in 2009 by the percentage of population 25 years or older with an advanced degree, and 6th nationally for the percentage with a Bachelor’s degree. Those statistics reflect the fact that the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., have among the highest levels of educational attainment anywhere in the country. Go outside of Northern Virginia, and it’s a different picture. Ranked by the percentage of workers who have graduated from high school, Virginia tumbled to 30th.
What would it take to set the standard for the United States — to build the best educated workforce in the entire country?
The State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) has been asking that question. Indeed SCHEV has developed a statewide strategic plan with four broad goals to achieve that objective by 2030. This plan has no money behind it at present but it provides a road map for how to become No. 1 in educational attainment should the political and cultural will exist to get there.
Virginia’s public universities will develop their own six-year plans that align with the SCHEV plan, says Peter Blake, SCHEV’s executive director, but they can’t get there by themselves. At some point, he says, the General Assembly will have to increase its public support to make it a reality. Says he: “It’s the commonwealth’s plan.”
The statewide strategic plan has four broad goals:
Provide affordable access for all. Strategies include expanding outreach to traditionally underserved populations; improving readiness of all students; cultivating affordable post-secondary pathways; and align state appropriation financial aid and tuition and fees so students have access regardless of their ability to pay.
Optimize student success. The plan calls for strengthening curricular options to ensure graduates have competencies necessary for employment and civic engagement; helping students to complete their degrees; and engaging adults and veterans in certificate and degree-completion programs and lifelong learning.
Drive change through innovation and investment. Blake describes these goals as the “creative disruption” part of the plan, in which colleges and universities rigorously evaluate what they’re doing on an ongoing basis. Strategies include cultivating innovations that enrich quality, promote collaboration and improve efficiency; fostering faculty excellence, scholarship and diversity; and enhancing higher ed leadership, governance and accountability.
Advancing economic and cultural prosperity. Strategies include building a future-ready workforce in all regions of the state; catalyzing entrepreneurship and business incubation; promoting research and development; and expanding public service to the community.
The framework (goals and strategies) is in place, says Blake. The next step is to adopt metrics by which to measure progress toward those goals. Draft metrics include the following targets:
- 1.5 million total undergraduate awards
- Closing the graduation gap between under-represented populations (URPs) and other populations
- Address the financial needs of 50% of low- and middle-income students
- 80% of graduates earn sustainable wages within three years of graduation
- Double R&D expenditures to $2.84 million
Those are the biggies, says Blake, although SCHEV proposes 12 more “related indicators” such as persistence (the percentage of enrollees who graduate within six years), default rates on student loans, state funding, and completions of high-demand degrees.