New VCCS Chancellor Focuses on Linking Industry and Education

by Shaun Kenney

One of Virginia’s hidden jewels is our community college system. For both bang for the buck and ease of access, the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) is perhaps one of our most underutilized resources, not simply because of the architecture or infrastructure, but because of the sheer quality of both the professors and — quite frankly — the students who move through the system.

Governor Glenn Youngkin came into office with specific intentions about how the VCCS should meet the 21st century, ideas which rubbed the existing VCCS board in the wrong way at first. Chalk it up to politics, image management, or that great enemy of all communication (miscommunication).

With the selection of David Doré as the new chancellor of VCCS, whatever sour first impressions there might have been have ended in compromise. In fact, it is hard to see where anyone could have gone wrong with the selection at all.

From Dwayne Yancey over at Cardinal News:

It’s also become clearer since then that Youngkin has some pretty definite ideas about the community college system. More to the point, the governor has some pretty definite ideas about the state’s economy. He sees more people moving out of the state than moving in, a sign to him that Virginia isn’t creating enough jobs. He also sees lots of jobs already going unfilled. To him, that means one thing: Virginia needs more workers, and one way to train those workers is through the community college system. Youngkin used an appearance in Bristol last fall, as part of the Cardinal News speaker series, to push for more dual-enrollment programs. Specifically, he proposed that every high school student graduate with not just a high school degree but also either a credential or an associate degree from a community college. That would be a mammoth undertaking but Youngkin’s new budget proposals would set Virginia on that path. He’s proposing $15 million to set up a pilot program at five schools – yet to be chosen – across the state. Separately, he’s also proposing a major overhaul of the state’s workforce training programs, many of which are tied to community colleges.

Has any governor since Mills Godwin – under whom the system was founded in the 1960s – paid so much attention to community colleges? Maybe so, but Youngkin has certainly made it clear that much of his economic agenda relies on community colleges, so he has more than a passing interest in who the next chancellor is and what that chancellor does.

More interesting to both Yancey (and perhaps myself) is Doré’s reputation and ability with regards to workforce development, a sore need in rural Virginia that should compliment — and not replace — an interest in the humanities.

In short, to pick on the now lightly mocked phrase from Senator Marco Rubio, creating both philosophers and welders:

One of Doré’s big initiatives at Pima has been to get the business community more involved with the school. “We really needed to realign the college to the key growth sectors of southern Arizona,” Doré said. “We held large and wide industry summits” to find out what business was interested in. “You need to have industry at the front end of the education funnel, not the back end,” Doré said. “There’s a real disconnect between those who hire and those who teach.”

The result of all those summits was the creation of seven “centers of excellence” – basically training centers focused on things important to the local economy. For Tuscson [sic], that meant applied technology, arts and humanities, aviation, cybersecurity, health care, hospitality and tourism, and public safety. It’s hard to tell from a distance what all that means, but there’s certainly been a lot of activity. A $21 million expansion of the aviation center opened in the fall and the Arizona Daily Star reports that the center will double the output of graduates in aviation mechanics to 75 a year.

Of course, one of the disconnects between education and industry is that we are producing too many graduates in fields small and growing businesses simply cannot use.

The emphasis on dual enrollment, while admirable, should be cautioned. The purpose of any college experience — even the community college experience — should be the experience of becoming a student. Doubling up the effort and turning a high school diploma into an associate degree may seem like a way out of mediocrity, but it should signal the fact that our public education system needs dire help, not to point to excess capacity within VCCS and use the system as a lifeboat for try-hards.

The linking of industry to education is admirable, if only for the purpose of reinforcing the narrative that a college education should make one more marketable in the workforce.

Yet utility should not and is not the metric of an education.

Just because one is marketable doesn’t make one educated; the same critique can be applied to credentialism writ large.

The purpose of any education is twofold: (1) to transmit culture; and (2) to improve your soul. Or in a purely Aristotelian sense, an education which purely serves the purposes of pleasure, wealth, or honor — the practical virtues — is no education at all.

Or Book VII and X of the Nicomachean Ethics if you are so inclined, because in order to be happy, you really don’t need excessive pleasure, wealth, or honor — but something else:

Such arguments then carry some degree of conviction; but it is by the practical experience of life and conduct that the truth is really tested, since it is there that the final decision lies. We must therefore examine the conclusions we have advanced by bringing them to the these of the facts of life. If they are in harmony with the facts, we may accept them; if found to disagree, we must deem them mere theories.

And it is very likely that the man who pursues intellectual activity, and who cultivates his intellect and keeps that in the best condition, is also the man most beloved of the gods. For if, as is generally believed, the gods exercise some superintendence over human affairs, then it will be reasonable to suppose that they take pleasure in that part of man which is best and most akin to themselves, namely the intellect, and that they recompense with their favors those men who esteem and honor this most, because these care for the things dear to themselves, and act rightly and nobly. (1179a)

In short, plugging people into the economy isn’t going to make anyone happy at the end of the day. Sure, it might make big business happy, but education gives students something most people can never find — that being, the definition of enough.

Yet the education of the mind and the soul? That’s something you can buy with a library card (or faithful attendance to the metaphysical: church, synagogue, hiking, music — pick your poison).

Of course, I am absolutely certain that most academics — or at least I am hopeful that most academics — understand this intuitively.

Yet whether our policy makers in Richmond understand this when the metric of success is zeroes and ones (or raw productivity) is something else entirely. But if you want to build a better Virginia, instill a love of things durable, good, beautiful and true.

That sounds rather esoteric, but that is the primary definition of any education system worthy of the name.

Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia. This column first appeared in The Republican Standard and is republished with permission.

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8 responses to “New VCCS Chancellor Focuses on Linking Industry and Education”

  1. Moderate Avatar

    It’s really important to be cautious about pushing high school students to earn an associate degree with their high school degree. Don’t assume this reduces 4year college costs and fail to consider the maturation and life experiences gained in 4 years, I’ve seen it too many times.

    Also, be sure the students truly get college level math and English (especially writing). Some academic programs don’t accept community college credit – mostly by requiring a higher level course than is offered at the CC. They do this because they’ve learned the courses are not as stringent.

    Replacing a high school level course with a college course could mean students don’t get needed practice to really learn the material. I see huge problems with writing skills. It’s time consuming and expensive to teach but critically important. Remember that higher Ed is more than preparing kids for A job. It should do that but also offer a foundation from which they can grow and have a successful career – not just a successful first job.

    Finally, has anyone checked the relationship between the unfilled jobs and the skills new workers are prepared for? Are the people leaving Virginia being replaced with new workers with the needed skills? Are available jobs ones people want? Do they give people a path to a successful career? It seems we don’t address all relevant issues – which may make the solution incompatible with either worker or employer needs – or both.

  2. Tom Blau Avatar

    This writer is wise, balanced, shrewd. The Governor should hire him as special counselor.

  3. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

    I periodically parked my car at the pay lot on Rte 123 in Tysons when taking Metrorail downtown during the day. Many of the spots were taken by construction workers. The majority of the license plates were from Maryland. Ditto for some construction projects in the McLean CBC. The conclusion drawn was that Virginia was not training enough workers with construction skills. Later, FCPS recognized this fact and decided to work with NoVA community college.

    Skilled trade jobs continue to pay well. Community colleges can play a role in helping young people develop skills needed to get these good jobs.

    1. James McCarthy Avatar
      James McCarthy

      It’s more likely that the construction workers were laborers as opposed to skilled trades people. Anecdotal observations can be misleading. How directly was NoVA community college’s initiative a result of MD license plates in Tyson?

    2. how_it_works Avatar

      No idea about now, but in years past, a construction worker could be sure to find work in Northern Virginia building homes, even if they were a raging alcoholic with poor skills.

      No coincidence, I’m sure, that just about every house where I found beer cans in the walls was built in the 80s or 90s, and the quality of the construction suggested that whomever did it flunked shop class.

      The problem was in my opinion so bad that I decided to buy some land and have a house built for me rather than to buy someone else’s headache.

      You’d better believe that I visited the site at least every other day to monitor the progress and the quality of the work being done.

      (If you buy a house in a subdivision, while under construction, it isn’t yours yet and you can be kicked off the site for trespassing).

  4. DJRippert Avatar

    I like Sean Kenney and generally agree with his political views. However, this piece is classic Immanuel Kant Kenney. A straight-forward description of Gov Youngkin’s plans for Virginia’s community colleges suddenly morphs into ” Book VII and X of the Nicomachean Ethics”.

    Wait, what?!?

  5. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Aristotle on Bacon’s Rebellion?! My heart leaped at this statement: “Yet utility should not and is not the metric of an education.” And this one: ” The purpose of any education is twofold: (1) to transmit culture; and (2) to improve your soul.” This is what I have preaching a long time. I usually do not agree with Shawn Kenney, but on this topic, we absolutely agree.

    I have thought for a long time that the crux of the problem with community colleges is that they cannot decide what they want to be: places where folks go to acquire specific job-related skills or junior colleges preparing students for transfer to a baccalaureate-granting institution. It is hard to do two somewhat different things well.

  6. AlH - Deckplates Avatar
    AlH – Deckplates

    The big gap in our post high school training system is to provide consistent and cost effective certified skilled training. This can be, electricians, mechanics, paralegal, IT systems, avionics, manufacturing, shipbuilding, hair stylist, and etc. There are too many private companies offering – something; Many of those fall short.

    The issue of costs, standards of qualifications and portability all persist with the present situation.

    Now, if a person coming from high school can attend a two-year college:
    1. Acquire a certificate of skill(s) recognized across Virginia & the country, skills with certified and consistent high standards
    2. Private industry providing a job pipeline, hiring the qualified graduates, AND perhaps recommending requisite courses
    3. Attend classes after work hours, if need be
    4. Not pay big money that the four-year schools charge
    5. See a clear path, toward also acquiring an associate degree

    The two-year Colleges are THE right place to provide skilled training. As well an associate degree, with a path to a four-year degree. What a dream come true?
    The pipeline for students is high school. The pipeline for instructors can be the military, who are “Journeyman” in their trades, or experienced former grads of the two-year college skilled trade.

    Not all high school grads want to nor should attend a four-year college or university. Moreover, not all parents can afford a four-year college.

    Another plus is that 529 funds are authorized by the IRS for payment of the skilled training. And Virginia VEST (529 college savings plan) ranks in the top five states in the U.S.

    Providing skilled training certificates from a two-year college is something the new VCCS Chancellor should focus on expanding.

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