HARRISONBURG — Rural Virginia, including Blue Ridge Community College’s service area, lags behind other regions of the commonwealth for education attainment, say state schools officials.
While the state as a whole is ranked in the Top 10 in the U.S. for educational attainment — 33 percent of Virginians 25 and older have at least a bachelor’s degree — when only rural regions are counted, it plummets to 50th.
An initiative through the Virginia Community College System that has picked up steam this spring hopes to increase the number of people earning degrees or certifications by beefing up college readiness efforts. The project’s main focus is increasing the number of full-time career coaches at public high schools.
Blue Ridge Community College is hoping to be one of the first seven of the state’s 14 rural community colleges chosen to participate in the project, called the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative.
The project is named for the shape the participating schools make if linked together by an imaginary line. The horseshoe begins on the Eastern Shore, stretches down through southwest Virginia and finishes in the northwest at Lord Fairfax Community College.
One in four people living within that area has less than a high school education.
Eventually, all schools will be a part of the initiative, according to Jeff Kraus, spokesman for the VCCS.
The goal of the project is to double the number of people obtaining an associate degree or other college certification who live in the rural horseshoe over the next 10 years. Right now, 26 percent of residents in the rural horseshoe earn an associate degree or other college certification.
The VCCS will ask for about $2.1 million from the state, according to an executive summary about the program prepared in March. Those funds would be matched by the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education.
The seven pilot colleges would then be asked to match that amount for a total project cost of $8.4 million, the document says.
“We’re hoping to position ourselves to be one of those pilot schools,” said BRCC President John Downey.
One way the school has positioned itself, Downey said, is through an already strong emphasis on developing career or education plans for high school students.
The Weyers Cave college started partnering with school divisions to add career coaches at high schools in Rockingham, Augusta and Highland counties and the localities within those counties in 2008. The program has grown progressively and 11 career coaches are now stationed in area schools to help students develop plans for after high school.
Most of those positions, however, are part time.
Also, BRCC is prepared to launch a study about the feasibility of a major gift campaign. Downey said that shows the school’s commitment to the mission and seriousness about raising money for the project.