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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Grow by Degrees Launched to Boost Higher Education in Virginia

Grow by Degrees, a new initiative of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council to build support for Virginia's colleges and universities and dramatically increase the number of degrees granted by the institutions, was announced Monday, June 22, at a series of news conferences across the state, including one in Norfolk.

"As a Commonwealth, we must invest in our colleges, universities and community colleges if we are to produce the quantity and quality of Virginia college graduates necessary to fill the increasingly complex needs of the next decade's job market," said Heywood Fralin, VBHEC Chairman and Roanoke area business leader.

Also speaking at the news conference in Norfolk were area college and university presidents, including John Broderick of Old Dominion University. He pointed to ODU's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) and the university's education program in modeling and simulation as examples of how investments in higher education can generate big returns. "Growing from the state's several-million-dollar investment, we now have 5,000 jobs in the region in modeling and simulation," he said.

While the state's budget has grown since the beginning of the decade, funding for Virginia's colleges and universities has dropped precipitously. According to the council, in constant dollars, per-student funding for Virginians at four-year colleges and universities has dropped roughly 40 percent since 2000-from $10,675 to $6,586 (excluding the temporary federal stimulus funding).

John O. "Dubby" Wynne, the former president of the Norfolk-based Landmark Communications and a member of the VBHEC executive committee, said business leaders believe a long-range plan to pump up higher education in the state must be adopted right away. He said the plan should include an increase in seed grants from the state to support university researchers. "If we don't seize the day, shame on us," he said.

The council's efforts are predicated on the belief that economic success, individually and throughout the state, is based on attainment of a college degree. Fralin again, "The logic behind this initiative is simple: Virginia's economic future will be brighter … if we increase the number of Virginians with college degrees and employable work skills attained through our community college system."

The coalition's 2020 vision provides a blueprint for increasing the percentage of Virginians with college degrees to 50 percent by 2020-a goal that will place Virginia on course to be a national and international leader in educational attainment and personal income.

Support for advanced education comes not just from business leaders. VBHEC engaged a team of bipartisan pollsters who found broad support for higher education among Virginians. While 75 percent of those surveyed believe that a college degree is needed to succeed in today's economy, only 35 percent of college-age Virginians currently enroll in our state's colleges, community colleges or universities. Only 42 percent of our citizens hold a college degree of any kind.

Grow by Degrees has identified seven key policy priorities:

• Awarding 70,000 more high-quality degrees over the next 10 years

• Targeting the new degrees to high-income, high-demand job sectors

• Creating cost-efficient new ways to access college degrees

• Expanding job-specific training at community colleges

• Increasing public-private collaboration on university-based research

• Enhancing economic development and workforce initiatives in each region

• Making college affordable for low- and middle-income students and families

The coalition plans to achieve these goals through four major activities:

• Forming a "grass-tops" advocacy coalition with near-term and sustainable impact

• Conducting an intensive election-year dialogue on higher education's impact on the Virginia economy

• Encouraging a major higher education legislative initiative led by the new governor in 2010-11

• Increasing understanding of higher education finance among General Assembly and executive branch officials

For more information or to become involved with Grow by Degrees, see the web site www.growbydegrees.org.

The Virginia Business Higher Education Council was founded in 1994 to educate state leaders and the public about higher education's vital role in Virginia's economy and to secure adequate state financial support for its excellence and accessibility.