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Our Students, Our Future

by Tod Massa 10. June 2016 23:17

Our Students, Our Future” was the theme of SCHEV’s Summit on College Access, Success and Completion. It was outstanding event that began  in earnest with Elizabeth Creamer (Office of the Secretary of Commerce and Trade Advisor for Workforce Development) delivering a passionate and personal accounting of the value of higher education, opportunity, and the need for generational leaders – essentially eliminating “first-generation in college” by ensuring opportunity. When she was done both of her fellow panelists, sitting at our table said, “I don’t want to follow that.”

Courtney Brown of the Lumina Foundation reminded us of the foundation’s Goal 2025 “To increase the proportion of Americans with degrees, certificates, and other high quality credentials to 60% by the year 2025.” Courtney provided comparisons of Virginia (50.6%) and the nation (45.3%). Using data from Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce and the US Census, she points to a 17.6% growth in the working age population (25-54) between 2010 and 2040, with 68% of current jobs requiring at least some college. This is almost a complete reversal in demand for credentials when compared to 1973. I believe all of this and more is in Lumina’s Stronger Nation Report. You can read her presentation here.

Next up was the incredible Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, Assistant Professor of Sociology at VCU. Tressie begins with Langston Hughes poem “Mother to Son” to tie the Commonwealth’s goal of being the best educated state by 2030 and Lumina’s Goal 2025, to the simple statistical reality that neither will be achieved without “building a crystal stair” for Virginia’s traditionally under-represented populations. Solving the equity issues in access, success, and completion are key to this success.

Well, son, I'll tell you:

Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

It's had tacks in it,

And splinters,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor --


But all the time

I'se been a-climbin' on,

And reachin' landin's,

And turnin' corners,

And sometimes goin' in the dark

Where there ain't been no light.

So boy, don't you turn back.

Don't you set down on the steps

'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.

Don't you fall now --

For I'se still goin', honey,

I'se still climbin',

And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

-- Langston Hughes, "Mother to Son."

The Virginia Plan for Higher Education at least addresses this challenge with its goal to close the gap in the differences in the Student Success Index across each sub-group of under-represented populations. It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen without effort. Her presentation can be found here.

I’ll tell you, after these three presentations, I was about ready to call it a day. They were intense. Courtney’s and Tressie’s were also filled with data. Which is why I am going to skip over the remaining panel discussions, which were all exceptional – especially the panel with Secretary Holton talking with a recent high school graduate, a recent community college graduate, a recent baccalaureate graduate, the father of a rising high school senior, and a high school principal. Hearing directly from students really helps to center the discussions. I want to close with mentioning the Complete College America (CCA) presentation.

Blake Johnson, Communications Director for CCA, provided an overview of what CCA does, the five “Game Changers” it has identified, and the data it collects. As part of Virginia’s commitment to joining CCA, we will be providing a lot of data. We are putting that together now, and then some. Truth to tell, a lot more detail is possible than what CCA requires. We are developing the data and building a new suite of reports dedicated to it.

Finally, a big shout-out to Wendy Kang, SCHEV’s Director of Innovation, who put the Summit together. It was an absolutely outstanding event.




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