Opinion: Commentary: Valuing Community College

Opinion: Commentary: Valuing Community College

Throughout American history, community colleges have provided an important pathway to higher education for individuals from all socioeconomic backgrounds. They were founded in the early 20th century with the belief that a more skilled workforce would result in a stronger workforce. That remains true to this day where these schools offer an array of programs to strengthen our workforce including associate degrees, vocational programs, and certificate programs among many others. These degrees prepare you for any type of career for a fraction of the cost of a four-year university. Last month, I was fortunate to tour the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Alexandria campus and I want to share what I learned.

Here in Northern Virginia, we are lucky to have one of the best community colleges in America. NOVA has six campuses, is the largest in the Commonwealth, and is the 15th largest community college in the nation with over 75,000 students. You could fill an entire football stadium with NOVA students. The most popular degree among students is for IT and Cyber Security. We have seen over the past few years just how important cybersecurity is and the technology field is one of the largest growing sectors in the country, especially here in Northern Virginia. Currently, there are over 23,000 job openings in the technology sector just in this region. That is the fourth most regional job openings in the technology sector across the country. But, right now the workforce pipeline to fill these jobs is insufficient. NOVA prepares its students to fill this void with the necessary degrees, certifications, and internships. So if you know someone looking to enter the technology field make sure to tell them about the IT and technology programs at NOVA.

For those students looking to receive a bachelor’s degree, community college is an invaluable resource. At NOVA you can pursue various different degrees including General Studies. Students are able to finish up all their general education credits so that the last two years can be spent on degree specific work. Additionally, spending the first two years at a community college can save families and individuals thousands of dollars while still receiving a quality education. The cost of four-year college continues to skyrocket with the total student loan debt in our country totaling $1.48 trillion according to a recent study from Stanford University. After completing your associate's degree, you can head to one of our many fantastic Virginia schools to complete your undergraduate degree. Now, one of the key issues many students face upon graduation is general education credits not transferring correctly. However, NOVA works with universities to facilitate successful credit transfers. Furthermore, NOVA has a joint admission agreement with George Mason University that guarantees all classes taken at NOVA will transfer to George Mason and is working on securing similar agreements with other Virginia schools.

Here in Mount Vernon and Lee districts, we are very excited about the preliminary discussions between NOVA, the Board of Supervisors and School Board for a potential partnership between Fairfax County Public Schools and NOVA for a presence on Richmond Highway. While plans are still in the preliminary stages, this would be a much-needed addition to our community. Currently, the closest college is the NOVA campus in Alexandria, which can be problematic for individuals without access to consistent transportation.

In Virginia, we are lucky to have great choices for higher education in our four-year and two-year institutions. NOVA is no exception and serves as a model to community colleges across the country. If you are considering attending or sending a family member to college, I strongly encourage you to examine the opportunities NOVA has to provide to see if it is the best academic and economic fit. To learn more please visit www.nvcc.edu.