The key to Northam’s G3: More support for Virginia’s Community Colleges
By Dr. Kimberly P. Blosser, President, Lord Fairfax Community College
Dr. John A. Downey, President, Blue Ridge Community College
Community college students and prospective students are facing substantial challenges right now. The pandemic has left many unemployed or underemployed. Trying to make ends meet while also navigating the process of matching existing skills, previous experience, and career aspirations to enroll in higher education is daunting. Furthermore, all this is happening at a time when Shenandoah Valley employers are seeking employees with the specific skills taught in our community colleges.
For students needing support getting started, community colleges pride themselves on having advisors dedicated to helping. Last fall, a recently laid-off single mom (Jane) called our college wanting to get enrolled in a program so she could get back into the workforce. Jane’s advisor talked with her, listened to the challenges she was facing, and walked her through the steps necessary to get into her first classes. Our advisor helped Jane get through the financial aid process, helped her check out a laptop, and provided her with an internet hotspot so she could do her online classes from home. At the end of the fall semester, Jane had earned an A and a B in her first two classes, all while helping her young daughter with her own online schooling. Jane and her advisor continue to talk every month, and she is feeling much more confident about completing her program and starting a new career.
This is why our advisors are so important. Virginia’s Community Colleges (VCCS) are seeking an additional $5 million in the 2021 General Assembly session so more advisors can be hired to support our students. This additional funding will also ensure that the Governor’s G3 (Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back) initiative is put to its most effective use. G3 students will be supported by advisors who provide onboarding support, financial counseling, and career planning to get into the program pathways that will directly lead to a well-paying job or a seamless transfer into a four-year university to complete a bachelor’s degree.
The G3 program will make higher education more accessible to low- and middle-income individuals like Jane by providing financial support for tuition, textbooks and living expenses. Not only will it help students consider those career pathways that are in high demand, but will also help match well-trained workers to local employers who desperately need them.
Our community college advisors will help those students navigate the pathways to achieve their goals and help them access career and technical training programs in the high-demand fields of Healthcare; Information Technology and Computer Science; Manufacturing and Skilled Trades; Early Childhood Education; and Public Safety.
Our Valley needs these workers more than ever. Graduates from G3 program areas are indeed the “essential workers” of our times.