SJR 459

Joint Subcommittee to Study the Need for Increased Higher Education Services in South-Central Virginia

August 2, 1999, Danville

The second meeting of the joint subcommittee was held at Danville Community College and opened with a welcoming address from the mayor of Danville, who presented the greetings of the Danville City Council and the enthusiasm of the city's officials and citizens for increased availability of higher education in their city.

Danville Community College

The president of Danville Community College spoke to the joint subcommittee concerning the role of Danville Community College in South-Central Virginia and the issues facing the college and the region. He noted that DCC has been aggressively working to expand access to education and to increase economic development in the region, with activities such as a partnership with public K-12 education to provide K-16 education; development of Neighborhood Educational Opportunity Centers, using Ford Foundation funds, in Danville, Pittsylvania County, and Henry County; career development and placement services; small business development; and entrepreneurship training. He noted that more than 6,800 students were registered in 1998-1999, that 59 percent of DCC's students are women, 75 percent are part-time, 28 percent are minorities, and that the average age of DCC's students is 29 (older than traditional college students). Danville Community College delivers two-year degree programs, both technical and academic, as well as certificate programs, and short term, customized credit and noncredit programs.

The DCC service area, which has a population of approximately 140,000 at present, is projected to have slow growth--less than the state average--in the coming years. The region's challenges are to compete with the aggressive economic development strategies in nearby North Carolina, to replace the declining economic strength of historic industries, and to counter the out-migration of young people from the region. The existing higher education community can assist the joint subcommittee by establishing a partnership between the private and the public sectors. A vision for the region might be based on a plan for improving the strategies of the existing institutions that would enhance collaboration and sharing of resources to provide services, improve the collection of relevant and uniform data, stimulate aggressive marketing of the combined services, and maintain maximum flexibility in order to respond to student and employer needs.

Averett College

The president of Averett College also spoke to the joint subcommittee concerning higher education in the Danville area. Averett College, a 141-year-old institution, has demonstrated its dedication to serving the region and to continued efforts to improve the economy and educational attainment of the area. Averett is committed to the welfare of its students, as shown by the extensive financial aid, low student/faculty ratio, and efforts to nurture the aspirations of its students. Averett College is proud of the diversity and accomplishments of its students and its unique programs in aviation, computer technology, and airway science management (respiratory therapy). The college also boosts a high quality equestrian center and a new facility for football and soccer.

Averett College currently has an enrollment of approximately 1,000 students, including about 460 commuters from the area surrounding Danville. The fall 1999 enrollment included 320 new students and the fall 2000 enrollment is expected to include 400 new students. Between 100 and 130 new community college students per year transfer to Averett College; 75 percent of Averett College's students are Virginians. Averett is currently expanding its residence capacity and could increase its enrollment of resident students to 1,000 in the coming century.

Averett College has, in recent years, developed a bachelor's degree in management and now has several satellite campuses with programs for nontraditional college students (e.g., in Northern Virginia and Virginia Beach). The satellite campuses serve approximately 1,500 students, most of whom are business students. The college is also involved in providing higher education services to Virginia National Guardsmen, has a pilot program to deliver business education to Marines on the east coast, and is participating in IDEAL (Individual Delivery of Education for Adult Learners). The college's administration is keenly interested in economic development in the area and ways to assist the employers in the region by translating theory into practice, meeting the needs of today's students, and working as part of a team with other institutions and the business and industry community.

The joint subcommittee discussed its desire to build on the strengths of the current higher education institutions and to use the infrastructure and resources already available in the region to weave a new tapestry. The key will be to tie these resources together, since there is not, at present, any common thread or connection to one goal, and to involve the existing institutions as active and vital partners in meeting technology needs and developing an educated citizenry.


According to the State Council of Higher Education's guidelines for institutional and program approval, it is the council's responsibility "to review and approve or disapprove the creation and establishment of any department, school, college, branch, division or extension of any public institution of higher education which such institution proposes to create and establish." Various statutes provide the council authority over changes in institutional missions and review of public academic programs. Pursuant to budget language, the council also has approval authority for the establishment of off-campus sites. The council does not have authority, however, to "disapprove the creation and establishment of any department, school, college, branch, division or extension of any institution which has been created and established by the General Assembly."

A recent example of a council programmatic assessment of educational needs was the Roanoke Higher Education Center, established by Senate Bill 1180 in 1997. Funding for the center was delayed until 1998 to provide SCHEV time to conduct its review. The Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia was hired by SCHEV to conduct the demographic study of the educational needs of the Roanoke Valley. In addition, SCHEV staff surveyed public and private institutions to identify current degree offerings within the proposed service area.

These studies found that census projections estimated a 16 percent decline of the 18 to 44 year old population in the service area. The educational attainment level in the area was found to be slightly below the state average, and the industry base was identified as more low technology and nonprofessional than the state as a whole. Although 44 percent of the area population had some higher education, only one sixth of the workers in the service area held jobs requiring an undergraduate degree. Most of the college credit courses offered in the area were conducted by the community college; however, opportunities for four-year degrees were limited. The study also noted that Virginia Tech and Radford University were within reasonable driving distance and that, although not-for-credit offerings were adequate, these courses were not well-known or well-coordinated. The study's conclusions were that (i) the greatest education need in the service area was for workforce development and technology training, primarily in noncredit courses; (ii) a brokering entity (such as the center) could improve the coordination and marketing of workforce development programs; and (iii) the funding for the operation of the center should be shared by the participating localities and the Commonwealth.

South-Central Demographics

Within the South-Central region, population growth is projected to be modest between 2000 and 2010, with some increases in the numbers of 15 to 19 year olds and 20 to 24 year olds, a decline in numbers of 25 to 34 year olds and 35 to 44 year olds, and increases in the numbers of 45 to 54 year olds and 55 to 64 year olds. These projected population changes are smaller than the projected changes for the Commonwealth as a whole, which is also projected to experience declines in the numbers of 35 to 44 year olds, but increases in all other age categories. The number of high school seniors in South-Central Virginia is projected to be steady with slight increases from 1999 to 2003 and a slight decrease in 2004. Between 1999 and 2004, the growth in the number of high school seniors in South-Central Virginia is projected to be one-tenth of the growth in the number of high school seniors statewide.

Although some students from South-Central Virginia attend each of the 15 public four-year institutions, the majority of the four-year higher education students from South-Central Virginia attend Longwood College, Old Dominion University, Radford University, University of Virginia, and Virginia Tech, with the greatest number attending Tech (over 1,000). The data shows that South-Central Virginia college students tend to be somewhat younger than students from other regions; in fact, over 40 percent of South Central Virginia college students are between 20 to 24 years old. Conversely, South-Central Virginia has a smaller college attendance rate than Virginia as a whole--slightly over 6 percent for 20 to 24 year olds as opposed to over 10 percent for the state as a whole.

The joint subcommittee asked many questions concerning the decline of the younger populations in South-Central Virginia and ways to stem out-migration of young people. The joint subcommittee observed that South-Central Virginia must take advantage of the proximity to North Carolina and the research triangle and that the jurisdictional line is less visible to many individuals in the region than to the other citizens of Virginia. The subcommittee also noted that change must occur in the region to promote the economy and improve the quality of life in the region, including increases in higher education opportunities, increases in workforce training in the form of credit and noncredit programs, and aggressive moves to attract industry and increase jobs. The joint subcommittee requested data from the private universities and colleges in the region, specifically the demographics of the students and the attendance patterns. The joint subcommittee also asked for high school drop-out statistics, data on how and when the 15 four-year public institutions were founded, and information on employment projections and skills.

The next meeting of the joint subcommittee has been scheduled for September 29 in Lynchburg and will include presentations on several other states' efforts to increase access to higher education in underserved regions.

The Honorable Charles R. Hawkins, Chairman
Legislative Services contact: Norma E. Szakal