Ever-changing education after high school

Published 9:07 am Thursday, May 17, 2018

We have seen the need for a change in post high school education over the last several generations. That need for change continues today and will continue as the skills needed in the workforce change. Those changes are becoming more urgent each year.

Frank Ruff Jr.

Once, there was an abundance of jobs for those who completed high school; however, opportunities have disappeared as automation has increased. That automation requires a greater skill level as well as the ability to change as new machines enter the workplace. Meanwhile, parents seeking a bright future for their children have seen college as the only option for success. Fifty years ago our state invested heavily in the community college system to provide post high school education within a reasonable distance of all who wished to meet those changes in the workplaces.

As the cost of four-year colleges rose, the community colleges attempted to hold down the education costs to families by placing greater focus on the basic courses needed for a college degree. My friend and former colleague in the Senate, Walter Stosch, guided this process by encouraging agreements between the community colleges and the four-year colleges to ensure that course credits could be transferable. In addition, he led the effort to offer financial scholarships to those transfer students. This served both families well and the state by reducing the need to build more classrooms and dormitories.

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My focus the last several years has been to refocus the workforce training role of the community colleges to better prepare our workforce for the jobs available today. The model of taking two years to train for work skills worked for young people directly out of high school living at home. However, it was a disaster for the thirty-year-old who lost their job in the recession of the last decade. Imagine having a family, losing your job, and being told that you will have to put everything on hold for two years. For many this was not a viable option. They either took a marginal job or began taking classes and dropped out when they found that they could not survive without more income or a second job.

I led the effort to change this equation, placing greater focus on what best worked for students and businesses, not on satisfying the college structure. For example, rather than two-year programs for such things as welding or technology, programs were set up to run for time frames such as six or eight weeks. At that point, if one had achieved the proper certified skills, they could successfully gain employment at wages in which they could support their family. The Power Line Program, for example, has been a great success.

Changes at the same time have and are occurring at the four-year colleges. Young people are receiving college course credits in ways that, a generation ago, were unheard of. Such things as dual enrollment in high school and online courses taken by students over the internet. This requires colleges to be more competitive in responding to making their degrees more relevant to the success of their students.

One national college that has started is focused on graduating students in one year. They are not making their degree easier to achieve but rather by cramming more into each and every day. More time in the classroom but also in internships that provide on the job training.

Frank Ruff Jr. serves as the 15th District senator in Virginia. He can be reached at Sen.Ruff@verizon.net, (434) 374-5129 or P.O. Box 332, Clarksville, VA 23927.