Category Archives: Education (higher ed)

A New, Improved Ken Cuccinelli?

ken-cuccinelliBy Peter Galuszka

Is one-time conservative firebrand Ken Cuccinelli undergoing a makeover?

The hard line former Virginia attorney general who lost a bitter gubernatorial race to Terry McAuliffe in 2013 is now helping run an oyster farm and sounding warning alarms about a rising police state.

This is remarkable switch from the man who battled a climatologist in court over global warming; tried to prevent children of illegal immigrants born in this country from getting automatic citizenship; schemed to shut down legal abortion clinics; tried to keep legal protection away from state gay employees; and wanted to arm Medicaid investigators with handguns.

Yet on March 31, Cuccinelli was the co-author with Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia of an opinion column in the Richmond Times Dispatch. Their piece pushes bipartisan bills passed by the General Assembly that would limit the use of drones and electronic devices to read and record car license plate numbers called license plate readers or LPRs.

Cuccinelli and Gastanaga say that McAuliffe may amend the bills in ways that would expand police powers instead of protect privacy. “The governor’s proposed amendments to the LPR bills gut privacy protections secured by the legislation,” they write. The governor’s amendments would extend the time police could keep data collected from surveillance devices and let police collect and save crime-related data from drones used during flights that don’t involve law enforcement, they claim.

When not protecting Virginians from Big Brother, Cuccinelli’s been busy oyster farming. He has helped start a farm for the tasty mollusks on the historic Chesapeake Bay island of Tangier. According to an article in The Washington Post, Cuccinelli got involved when he was practicing law in Prince William County after he left office.

He would visit the business and get roped into working at odd jobs. He apparently enjoyed the physical labor and the idea that oysters are entirely self-sustaining and help cleanse bay water.

Environmentalists scoff at the idea, noting that as attorney general, Cuccinelli spent several years investigating Michael Mann, a former University of Virginia climatologist who noted that humans were responsible for the generation of more carbon dioxide emissions and that has brought on climate change.

Some have pointed out that if Cuccinelli had had his way, he would have helped quash climate science, generated even more global warming and sped up the inundation of Tangier Island by rising water levels.

It will be interesting to see if Cuccinelli intends to rebrand himself for future political campaigns and how he tries to reinvent himself.

Dead End for Virginia’s Higher Ed Tuition Model

Peter Blake... an establishment perspective but a thoughtful one.

SCHEV chief Peter Blake: an establishment perspective but a thoughtful one.

by James A. Bacon

The tuition model of public Virginia colleges and universities is evolving. In the old model the state made college attendance more affordable to everyone more or less equally by providing financial support to each public institution. In the new model, institutions make attendance affordable for lower-income Virginians by raising tuition and then offsetting it with financial aid.

In the 1990s, the General Assembly set a goal of covering two-thirds the cost of providing an undergraduate, in-state education, and consistently managed to hit the target, Peter Blake, executive director of the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV), told me last week. As recently as the 2001-2002 school year during the Gilmore administration, the state share rose as high as 77%.  Since then, that percentage has steadily eroded. This year state support covers only 47%.

Tightening state support for higher ed may be understandable, given the relentless spending pressures the General Assembly faces on all fronts. But there are consequences. Colleges and universities offset the loss of state revenue by raising tuition and fees. Then, because lower-income students find the higher charges unaffordable, university boards raise tuition again to set aside funds for financial aid. Middle-income students lose because they wind up paying more. Even lower-income students lose in the bargain because the financial aid lags the tuition.

The University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary can get away with increasing tuition aggressively: Demand for admittance is so high that people are willing to pay. But less prestigious institutions run into the harsh realities of the marketplace. They can’t raise tuition without losing students and their overhead is resistant to cost cutting. The finances of many institutions is precarious.

“I worry about a financial aid model that relies upon individual institutions,” said Blake. Some institutions will be able to provide aid, others won’t. The results, he said, will be “uneven.”

What’s to be done? It’s easy to say we should increase state support. But higher ed competes with K-12, Medicaid, transportation, prisons, mental health, pensions and other priorities. Every category of spending faces its unique challenges that warrant more state spending. And taxpayers, battered by stagnant incomes, aren’t especially receptive to higher taxes.

In theory another option is to give colleges more independence from state oversight and regulation. That was a deal that UVa, W&M and Virginia Tech struck in exchange for reduced state support several years ago. Freedom from state regulation, it was thought, would give them more flexibility by shortening the decision-making loop.

But Blake doesn’t think that there’s much more to gain from deregulation. “Virginia’s system is so decentralized,” he said. “How much regulatory relief can there be?” Control from Richmond is minimal, he said. Each university is self-governing; it has its own board of visitors. A primary function of SCHEV, he could have added, is to avoid unnecessary duplication and redundancy within the state higher-ed system. As the main instrument of state control, SCHEV acts to restrain spending and costs, not to increase them.

How about administrative bloat? Blake said there are good reasons that administrative costs have increased — usually in response to some perceived societal need such as economic development, community engagement or racial and gender equity. He sees no easy cuts to be made.

Toward the close of our conversation, Blake made an unexpected observation. If judged by growth in enrollment, he said, the most successful institution in Virginia is Liberty University, the institution founded by deceased televangelist Jerry Falwell, Not only is its Lynchburg campus growing, its online learning program is exploding. Liberty, which caters to evangelical Christians, delivers educational services not only to Americans but thousands of students overseas. It is the largest university in Virginia.

The quality of an online Liberty University learning experience probably isn’t the same as that of UVa seminar with a professor interacting with 15 students in the same classroom. But, then, it’s probably a whole lot cheaper. I would conjecture that Liberty, an institution not long-lived enough to develop hoary traditions and an entrenched academic culture has found it easier to adapt to the new technology. One reason college tuition is increasing so rapidly nationally is what’s not happening in higher ed rather than what is. Colleges are not making the productivity gains we have seen in nearly every other sector of the economy. Traditional universities have powerful constituencies — often referred to as “stakeholders” — whose interests must be placated.

If traditional colleges can’t find some solution to their rising costs and rising tuition, they’re in big trouble. Liberty University or institutions like it will eat their lunch.

Rising College Costs Hit the Poor the Hardest

by James A. Bacon

In 2009 President Barack Obama set a goal for the United States to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. To reach that goal, more than 65% of individuals between 25 and 34 need to possess a college degree. Things aren’t working out well.

Conclude the authors of a new report, “The Effects of Rising Student Costs in Higher Education,” by Ithaka S+R, a not-for-profit consulting and research service:

Declining state appropriations and increasing reliance on tuition revenue have substantially increased the cost of public education to Virginia students, and the trend has accelerated since the Great Recession that began in 2007. Rising costs have deterred students from remaining in college and completing their degrees, and the lowest-income students have been hit the hardest.

Drawing upon an exceptional richness of data in Virginia, the authors of the Ithaka report used the Old Dominion to illustrate trends that are national in scope. Like Virginia, other states have cut state support for higher education, and colleges and universities have increased tuition and fees aggressively to make up the difference. While higher ed institutions also have bolstered financial aid to lower-income students, that aid has not kept pace with the increase in tuition and fees. The inflation-adjusted net cost — defined as the difference between a student’s estimated cost of attendance and total amount of gift aid — has risen steadily.

net_costs

Source: “The Effects of Rising Student Costs in Higher Education”

Between 1997 and 2007, net costs for the poorest quintile of Virginia students actually fell, while it rose for middle-class and affluent quintiles. But the trend has reversed in the past five years, with net costs increasing more rapidly for the poor. (While the report does not emphasize this, the net cost for lower-income students is less than two-thirds that of the most affluent students, and their net costs have risen less rapidly over the entire 15-year period.)

institutional_groupings

Source: “The Effects of Rising Student Costs in Higher Education”

The Ithaka report distinguishes between what it terms “Lower Dependence on the State” (LDS) institutions and “Higher Dependence on the State” (HDL) institutions. (The institutions deemed less dependent include The University of Virginia, College of William & Mary, George Mason University, Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Commonwealth University, James Madison University and Virginia Tech.) LDS institutions have more flexibility in their tuition strategies and have been more successful in recruiting out-of-state students willing to pay the full freight. HDS institutions are dominated by in-state students and have fewer resources to provide financial aid. Those institutions find the current environment especially challenging:

Tuition charges may be reaching their market limit at many of these institutions, and further increases could both adversely impact institutional finances and endanger the goals of ensuring quality and broad access for students across the state. HDS institutions, in particular, appear to have reached — or come close to — this limit, as they were unable to increase tuition charges enough to offset the most recent funding cuts and have thereby seen declines in total revenue per student. …

These financial strains may force institutions to choose between sacrificing either access or quality (or some combination of both), particularly for low- and middle-income students.

If the public goal is to educate and graduate as many students as possible from four year students and to reduce gaps between socioeconomic groups, concludes Ithaka, something has to change. Ithaka recommends increasing state support for higher education and targeting those funds to reduce net costs for lower-income students. Also, recognizing the limited ability of state legislatures to increase funding, the authors also urge colleges and universities to “re-engineer their systems to become significantly more efficient … which means that they have to find ways to adjust their own underlying costs.”

Bacon’s bottom line: The Ithaka study has many useful things to say, but I question the underlying premise — that it is feasible for 65% of future generations of Americans to graduate from four-year institutions of higher learning. I would advance the proposition, for purposes of stimulating discussion, that (a) the goal is unachievable given the current state of K-12 education in America today, and (b) it does a dis-service to lower-income students who lose income by attending college instead of working, rack up significant student debt and never end up acquiring the credential — a Bachelor’s Degree — that will improve their opportunities in the job market.

The fact is, Virginia high schools are graduating thousands of students who are ill-prepared for college. Poor students drop out at a disproportionate rates not only because finances are a burden, but because they often find the course work to be beyond their capabilities. Expanding college enrollment without addressing the disparities in education at the K-12 (or even the pre-K) level is setting up poor students for failure and a lifetime of indebtedness. Under the guise of doing good, this policy does great harm.

A Plan to Build the Best Educated Workforce by 2030

A multi ethnic group of graduates in graduation gownsby James A. Bacon

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.

UVa’s Silent Crisis

UVa_revenue

Note: Numbers not adjusted for inflation.

by James A. Bacon

While the University of Virginia positions itself in the academic marketplace as an elite Southern Ivy akin to Duke University with the full support of faculty, administrators and the Board of Visitors, students aren’t terribly happy about the rising tuition and fees. The university’s “Affordable Excellence” is long on excellence and short on affordability. Protestors with the student group UVa Students United expressed their displeasure by blocking the doors of the room where the BoV was holding a meeting yesterday, as reported by the Daily Progress today.

Against that backdrop, permit me to present some data to put the tuition hikes into perspective. UVa administrators, like their university brethren across the state, like to blame cuts in state support for skyrocketing tuition and fees. But take a gander at the chart above, with data taken from UVa’s annual President’s Reports (specifics shown below). State appropriations between 2006 and 2014, as seen in the green line, have been stable in absolute terms. The red line shows the steady march of revenue from tuition and fees.

revenue_table2

Source: UVa Presidential Reports. Note: These numbers do not count hospital and health system revenues.

What about the blue line? That tracks what administrators call “sponsored programs,” also known before 2010 as “grants & contracts.” After rising steadily through 2011, this category of revenue declined markedly in the past three years — by 19%.

Is there a link between falling grants & contracts and rising tuition? I’d never considered that question before. But a comment to a previous blog post by a certain “ZS” is worth pondering.

I was recently invited to put in for a senior position at UVA and as part of my application research I found that much of their recent financial problems had to do with decreases in grant and contract revenue. Basically, in the past three years UVA’s grant and contract funding is down almost $80M/year (about 4% of operating revenue) and hasn’t been this low in real terms since the mid 1990’s . This loss of revenue equates to roughly $4k/student and looks like it’s being made up through tuition and hospital fee hikes. While some will point to sequestration as a cause, the numbers and the numbers of UVA’s peers in higher education don’t bear this out.

The problems look to be internal and most likely is a lack of leadership accountability. Submitting proposals for grants and contracts is tedious work and not something most people like doing, but it’s important for helping to offset operating costs. If leadership (President and COO) aren’t holding department heads accountable, then it’s very likely that proposals aren’t being done or are being done in a poor, going-through-the-motions manner that doesn’t result in an award (UVA’s award percentage numbers do bear this out).

BTW, state appropriations are less than 5% of UVA’s revenue. Focusing on that portion of UVA’s financials misses where the management issues are in the University. The major tuition hikes aren’t happening because of loss of State appropriations or even from operating cost increases year to year. These are simply distractions to the real issues internally.

This decline in sponsored revenues is consistent with the tumble in UVa’s reported R&D expenditures. According to National Science Foundation data, R&D expenditures fell from $398 million in 2011 to $386 million in 2013, the most recent data available. UVa’s national R&D ranking declined from 54th place to 59th. (However, it must be said that the 2011 numbers represented a huge leap from the previous year, 2010, when R&D expenditures were only $276 million.) By contrast, Virginia Tech increased its R&D expenditures from $450 million to $496 million between 2011 and 2013.

It is noteworthy that UVa President Teresa Sullivan assumed office on August 2, 2010. A surface analysis would suggest that the decline in sponsored-program revenue and R&D funding occurred on her watch. I have seen no evidence in the media coverage that the Board of Visitors has focused on this issue, much less the relationship between declining sponsored revenues and rising tuition & fees. Perhaps it’s time it did.

Let UVa Be UVa

uvaThe University of Virginia is preparing to take another step in its incremental evolution toward a private-university business model. The Board of Visitors is scheduled to vote this week on a proposal to increase undergraduate tuition by 3.6% — and at the graduate-level programs at the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy by a whopping 39% for in-state students.

The undergraduate tuition increase maintains the relentless increase of past years. While 3.6% seems modest in absolute terms, it occurs against a backdrop of negligible inflation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, consumer-price inflation for the 12 months ending February was zero… as in 0.0%. Nothing new here — this is Business As Usual. Despite negative PR regarding campus rapes and race relations, UVa continues to exercise its pricing power as an elite institution. It can increase tuition, so it will.

The main constraint is not market demand but political. Administrators are pushing as fast as they can without sparking a legislative backlash. Politically, the tender spot is the cost of an undergraduate education. What Virginians value is the ability, if they can meet the stringent admission requirements, to get a top-flight undergraduate education (and/or debauched party experience in the fraternity scene) at a price that is affordable to the middle-class.

Graduate programs are a different matter. Voters don’t get as upset if UVa’s super-elite business and law schools charge more. Batten School administrators, reports the Daily Progress, are moving toward a “high tuition/high financial aid” pricing model similar to programs at Georgetown University, Duke University and the University of Michigan. Expect to see more of the same in the university’s other prestigious graduate schools.

(Update: Lo and behold, a follow-up Daily Progress article notes that the Darden School of Business is jacking up tuition by 5.9%, while the School of Law tuition will rise 4%.)

Bacon’s bottom line: Deep down inside, UVa wants to be an elite Southern Ivy like Duke. I say, let ‘em be what they want to be. Let ‘em admit whom they want and charge what they want. Take the $133 million in state support and use it to build up Virginia’s non-elite institutions.

– JAB

Cruz, “Liberty” and Teletubbies

AP CRUZ A USA VA By Peter Galuszka

Where’s the “Liberty” in Liberty University?

The Christian school founded by the controversial televangelist Jerry Falwell required students under threat of a $10 “fine” and other punishments to attend a “convocation” Monday where hard-right U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for president.

Thus, Liberty produced a throng of people, some 10,000 strong, to cheer on Cruz who wants to throttle Obamacare, gay marriage, abolish the Internal Revenue Service and blunt immigration reform.

Some students stood up to the school for forcing them to become political props. Some wore T-Shirts proclaiming their support of libertarian Rand Paul while others protested the university’s coercion. “I just think it’s unfair. I wouldn’t say it’s dishonest, but it’s approaching dishonesty,” Titus Folks, a Liberty student, told reporters.

University officials, including Jerry Falwell, the son of the late founder, claim they have the right as a private institution to require students to attend “convocations” when they say so. But it doesn’t give them the power to take away the political rights of individual students not to be human displays  in a big and perhaps false show.

There’s another odd issue here. While Liberty obviously supports hard right Tea Party types, the traditional Republican Party in the state is struggling financially.

Russ Moulton, a GOP activist who helped Dave Brat unseat House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary last summer, has emailed party members begging them to come up with $30,000 to help the cash-strapped state party.

GOP party officials downplay the money problem, but it is abundantly clear that the struggles among Virginia Republicans are as stressed out as ever. Brat won in part because he cast himself as a Tea Party favorite painting Cantor as toady for big money interests. The upset drew national attention.

Liberty University has grown from a collection of mobile homes to a successful school, but it always has had the deal with the shadow of its founder. The Rev. Falwell gained notoriety over the years for putting segregationists on his television show and opposing gay rights, going so far as to claim that “Teletubbies,” a cartoon production for young children, covertly backed homosexual role models.

Years ago, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published a story showing that the Rev. Falwell took liberties in promoting the school he founded in 1971. Brochures touting the school pictured a downtown Lynchburg bank building with the bank’s logo airbrushed off. This gave the impression that Liberty was thriving with stately miniature skyscrapers for its campus.

Some observers have noted that Liberty might be an appropriate place for the outspoken Cruz to launch his campaign. The setting tends to blunt the fact that he’s the product of an Ivy League education – something that might not go down too well with Tea Party types – and that he was actually born in Canada, although there is no question about his U.S. citizenship and eligibility to run for question.

Hard-line conservatives have questioned the eligibility of Barack Obama to run for U.S. president although he is likewise qualified.

With Cruz in the ring and Liberty cheering him, it will make for an interesting campaign.

Another Virginia College on the Endangered List

aslThe restructuring of higher ed in Virginia continues with relentless efficiency. First St. Paul’s College. Then Virginia State University. Then Sweetbriar College. Now it’s the Appalachian School of Law.

At its peak enrollment, ASL in Grundy (far Southwest Virginia, for the Virginia-geography impaired) had 150 students in the graduating class. The incoming class for 2014 was 45, and the next class will drop again this fall, according to the TaxProf blog. The faculty has dropped from 14 full-time professors to eight.

ASL has entered into discussions with Emory & Henry College to work out a possible affiliation. Meanwhile, writes the TaxProf:

We have heard from many members of the ASL Alumni Association. Everyone we spoke to says they are worried about their school. They believe the ASL Board of Trustees isn’t doing enough pro-actively to save it and may have missed opportunities in the past. They fear the school will close if something isn’t done soon. … [T]he Alumni Association is looking at all options including legal action against the board the trustees. …

In an effort to get students in the doors (which is basically tuition), ASL has joined a growing number of law schools that are lowering their requirements. This means bringing in students who may not otherwise get into law school. … In July 2014, the percentage of people who passed the bar in Virginia was 68% compared to 42% of ASL students that was the lowest rate for any law school located in the Commonwealth.

– JAB

Clarification: The wording of my first paragraph has confused at least two readers. I do not mean to imply that all four colleges listed are threatened with closing. I do mean to say that they have had widely publicized financial difficulties, which in at least once case has led to closing.

Yes, Let’s Investigate ABC Incident


Governor Terry McAuliffe did the right thing by promptly demanding an investigation into an arrest by ABC special agents of a black University of Virginia student that resulted in a head injury requiring 10 stitches. In the racially inflamed atmosphere we live in today, fueled by national news coverage of deaths of young black men at the hands of white police, emotions are running high. Nobody wants this incident to turn into another Ferguson.

On the one hand, Virginians are rightly concerned about the behavior of ABC agents, who caused a furor last year when they arrested Elizabeth Daly, a white University of Virginia student on the mistaken premise that she was carrying a case of beer. One agent drew a gun and another tried to shatter a window in her car with a flashlight. Citizens rightly wonder if last night’s arrest of Martese R. Johnson was a similar case of excess force.

On the other hand, we need to know all the facts. Martin, who was arrested outside a bar at 12:45 a.m., was charged with obstruction of justice and profane swearing or resisting arrest. It appears from news accounts — and, as we know from the UVa rape case, all news accounts should be considered preliminary and incomplete, and YouTube videos can miss important context — that Martin was intoxicated and resisted arrest. He banged his head on the ground when ABC agents took  him to the ground before handcuffing him. “I go to U.Va., you [expletive] racists,” he yelled, as blood flowed from his cut. “How did this happen?”

As with the UVA rape case, we should refrain from speculation on the basis of incomplete knowledge. Let’s wait for the facts to come in before drawing conclusions.

– JAB

Roanoke Gets Serious about Competing for Young Professionals

roanokeby James A. Bacon

Roanokers know they have a challenge stemming the drain of educated young people, just like every other small metropolitan area in the United States. At least they’re asking the right questions: What does it take to recruit and retain young professionals? The Roanoke Regional Chamber is hosting an event later this month, Xperience 2015, to communicate to young professionals that the Roanoke and New River valley regions “can be hip and happening places to live, work and find career mentors,” in the words of Duncan Adams writing in the Roanoke Times. Or put another way: “Roanoke doesn’t suck.”

The starting point for any conversation is to recognize that the economic realities of the Knowledge Economy are stacked against smaller metropolitan regions. Big metros offer young professionals two very important things that small metros don’t: larger mating pools and larger job markets. Educated young people who have options of where to live will tend to gravitate to larger metros that provide a wider choice of mates and careers.

But some do choose to live in places in Roanoke. The trick is to figure out what kind of people they are and what made them decide to settle there.

As the urban heart of Southwest Virginia, Roanoke does have some “cool” stuff, Adams observes: craft breweries, downtown lofts, greenways and quick access to outdoor recreational amenities. So, it’s not as if young professionals are moving to a cultural wasteland. I would add, from my own personal experience as a young professional who lived in Roanoke four years during the early 1980s, the city enjoys exceptional natural beauty and has a small but vibrant downtown, not to mention a lower cost of living than larger metros. I loved the city and was sad to leave for better career opportunities elsewhere.

The challenge isn’t reaching the young professionals who live in Roanoke already. They know what the region offers. If they see career opportunities, many if not most will stay. The challenge is persuading young people from outside the region, not drawn by ties of family and friends, to give it a chance.

I’m still waiting for a community like Roanoke to conduct a market segmentation analysis of young college graduates. If I would have to hazard a guess, I would say 90% of college grads would have no interest whatsoever in moving to a place like Roanoke. But maybe 10% would. What characteristics do they have? Do they have a strong preference for outdoor activities like hiking, spelunking and canoeing? Do they hail from smaller towns? Are they more likely to be religious? Do they tend to be more culturally or politically conservative? Identify those characteristics and then devise targeted marketing campaigns to people with those traits. In the age of social media, that may not be so hard to do.

Western Virginia has a remarkable number of colleges and universities, from Virginia Tech and James Madison to Washington & Lee, VMI, Bridgewater, Hollins, Eastern Mennonite, Roanoke College and Mary Baldwin — just to name institutions within a two-hour drive from Roanoke. I would conjecture that students who choose to attend such institutions are more likely to appreciate the assets that Western Virginia has to offer and would be more likely than graduates of other institutions to consider settling down in the region. Perhaps there is some way for Roanoke to tap into the steady stream of college graduates.

Small metros like Roanoke face an uphill climb. The task is not hopeless. But they have to take the next step of identifying the niche market where they can compete in the talent recruitment marketplace. And then they need to organize their communities around creating and supporting the assets those niche college grads are looking for.