Tag Archives: SCHEV

Education Anarchists: Virginia Education Officials Discuss Radical Reforms

Billy Cannaday, vice provost of academic outreach at the University of Virginia, is leading the university’s distance-learning endeavors. He also serves as president of the Virginia Board of Education.

How well prepared are Virginia’s high school graduates for what comes next in their lives, whether it’s college, community college or a job? Virginia’s top education officials began asking that question in 2015, and they explored the topic with 24 stakeholder groups, from parents and school counselors to college admissions staff and university deans.

“We went 0 for 24,” Steve Staples, Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction, told the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) earlier today. Every stakeholder group said that most high school grads are ill prepared for the world that awaits them. A common sentiment: Schools are “working on the wrong stuff.”

Virginia’s public school system is geared to teaching content, said Staples and Billy Cannaday, president of the Virginia Board of Education, in a joint presentation. Knowledge of content, as measured by multiple choice tests, is a necessary part of the K-12 education but it’s not sufficient. Content, they said, must be supplemented by the ability to communicate, collaborate, think critically, think creatively, and solve problems.

Steven R. Staples, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The presentation by Virginia’s two top K-12 officials followed by a lengthy discussion was a first for SCHEV. Senior K-12 and higher-ed administrators rarely talk in formal settings. Indeed, although both work in the same high-rise building in downtown Richmond, they take separate elevators to their respective offices. But both camps acknowledge the need to build bridges, and the outreach to SCHEV may portend greater cooperation between the two education systems in the future.

Virginia’s high school system was designed in the late 1800s for a manufacturing-dominated economy. That system is not working for the 21st-century economy, said Cannaday. New skill sets are needed.

The Standards of Learning (SOL) tests assess students’ mastery of content in narrow silos — mathematics, English, history, science, etc. Students are rarely taught how to integrate those disciplines. Calling for a “deeper learning,” Staples said schools need to “blend disciplines.” He gave as an example a school in Southwest Virginia that linked English, history and civic engagement by assigning students the book, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” and coupling it with interviews of veterans in the community.

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) is early in its reappraisal of Virginia K-12 education. High-level goals have yet to be translated into concrete action. The first step, said Staples, is to establish what should get done. The second is to figure out how to get it done. “We’re still working on that.”

The response of SCHEV board members was uniformly positive, although the obvious question came up: Does VDOE have the resources to pull off changes of the magnitude outlined by Staples and Cannaday?

“This vision isn’t all about resources,” said Staples. “It’s about allocating those resources in a different way.” One strategy might be to scale back state directives to local school districts. For example, the state requires schools to hire a library aide. Maybe the school principal says he’d rather hire a career coach. Another approach: Schools may have to re-think the way teachers allocate their time: five classes, 30 students per class, five  hours a day. Maybe teachers need more flexibility.

“I am somewhat of an anarchist,” Staples said. “We need to re-define high school expectations that drive change throughout the system.”

In response to questions, both Staples and Cannaday said they were open to implementation of quality pre-K programs, which can have measurable impact on pupils’ academic achievement for years, and also to charter schools — although charter schools need to be held accountable for performance just like other public schools.

An essential component of K-12 reform will be defining what is expected of high school graduates, and that requires dialogue with higher education. Said Cannaday: “We have an opportunity to talk about not only K-12 but how it connects to what comes next: college and the workplace.”

What Does SCHEV Do? More than You Think.

Think of SCHEV as the Commonwealth Transportation Board of higher ed -- but with bigger staff and more responsibility.

Think of SCHEV as the Commonwealth Transportation Board of higher ed — but with bigger staff and more responsibility.

Someone asked me the other day what the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) does. It monitors and coordinates the state’s public universities, I said. But what does it actually do, my friend said. Well, I replied, it puts together a strategic plan for higher education, and it maintains a lot of databases, and conducts a lot of analysis. But does it actually have any power, my friend persisted.

Well, I’m just a couple of months into covering higher education as a beat, and I’m still learning. But during a board meeting held at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, I learned yesterday of at least one substantive power SCHEV exercises. Colleges and universities wanting to implement new academic programs must obtain SCHEV approval. And the organization does not rubber stamp requests.

Three proposals came before the Council yesterday — two were approved but one, an Old Dominion University request to launch an M.S. program in sports management, was kicked back to the university for re-tooling.

The Council approved a request by Tidewater Community College to establish an Associate of Fine Arts degree.  The degree is designed specifically to ease the transfer of TCC students to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Bachelor of Music Program. The new degree will allow students to complete their bachelor’s degree with an estimated 124 credit hours rather than the 144 that would have been required otherwise. Those 20 credit hours represent a significant savings in time and tuition to the transferring student, and the program advances SCHEV’s goal of providing a lower-cost pathway to a B.A. degree than a full stint at a four-year institution.

The Council approved a similar J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College program providing an Associate of Science degree to community college students seeking to earn a science degree at a four-year institutions. The logic was similar: to grease the transition between community college and four-year college.

But the ODU sports management program encountered heavy skepticism in SCHEV’s Academic Affairs and Planning Committee, and that committee recommended that the program not be approved at this time.

ODU has long offered a physical education degree with a concentration in sports management. But the university wanted to expand the concentration to a standalone program because sports management needs a pedagogically distinct curriculum. Additionally, claimed ODU, there is a strong industry demand in Hampton Roads for master-level graduates in sports management.

But SCHEV staff concluded otherwise, primarily on the grounds that no documentation exists of the proffered demand in the Hampton Roads sports industry. Moreover, a 2015 study of sports management master’s degree programs generally found that not only were sports management graduate degree holders earning less than other graduate degree holders, but they were earning less than those with a bachelor’s degree.

Rather than rejecting the request outright, the SCHEV board asked ODU to re-try to strengthen the program. (For details, see the SCHEV board’s March agenda book, beginning page 26.)

Thus, dear reader, while Virginia does maintain one of the most decentralized systems of higher education in Virginia, the state oversight body is far from toothless. Colleges and universities can not create expensive new programs, departments and schools without SCHEV’s blessing. Staff analyzes the student demand and market demand for each request and examines possible duplication with programs at other institutions to ensure that the investment of resources is justified. In that way, the Council is comparable to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which has the final say over transportation funding projects.

Furthermore, SCHEV’s powers and prerogatives will expand this year thanks to 12 new responsibilities assigned it by the General Assembly. Most are arcane items that would mean little to the general public. But at least one will give the Council a significant role in economic development: developing the Commonwealth Research and Technology Strategic Roadmap. This planning tool will identify research areas worthy of economic development and institutional focus. Priority projects will receive grants from a $2.8 million funding round this year from the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund.

Every arrangement has its advantages and disadvantages. Virginia’s decentralized model of higher ed certainly has  flaws — and I will not hesitate to point them out when I encounter them. But by common estimation, Virginia has one of the best, if not the best, systems of higher education in the country. The SCHEV model of measuring, monitoring and lightly regulating Virginia’s colleges and universities has much to recommend it.

Economic Development “Reset” Needed in Virginia

John O. "Dubby" Wynne wants to overhaul Virginia's outmoded approach to economic development.

John O. “Dubby” Wynne wants to overhaul Virginia’s outmoded approach to economic development. Photo credit: Pilotonline

It’s time for a “fundamental reset” for the way Virginia’s colleges and universities think about economic development, John O. “Dubby” Wynne told the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) board yesterday. Wynne, former CEO of Norfolk-based Landmark Communications, is a driving force behind the Virginia Go initiative.

“For the first time in decades, Virginia’s economy is not doing very well,” said Wynne. The problem runs deeper than federal budget sequestration’s hit to military spending or managerial issues at the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Virginia needs to address major structural problems, he said.

One of those problems is the mismatch between jobs and skills in the state. Wynne quoted a figure widely used by Governor Terry McAuliffe, that 150,000 jobs in the IT sector alone are going unfilled; tens of thousands of those are in the cyber-security field. With skills shortages of that magnitude, it won’t be easy recruiting outside corporate investment, Virginia’s traditional economic development strength.

“If outside people see that you can’t take care of your existing businesses,” said Wynne, “the chances of them coming here are small.”

Since retiring from Landmark, Wynne has immersed himself in state and regional economic-development efforts. He serves as vice chairman on the state-appointed Council on Virginia’s Future and is a member of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council. He worked with Dominion CEO Tom Farrell to create the Go Virginia initiative, which has received state dollars this year to spur regional and public-private collaboration to spark economic growth.

Virginia needs to produce people who can participate in the knowledge economy, and the state’s higher ed system is critical to making that happen, Wynne said. It’s an open question, though, how well the state’s colleges and universities can make economic development part of their mission. There are so many stakeholders with a voice, he said, that “it’s very hard to get movement with any kind of market speed.” Higher ed needs “to get a serious discussion going to say that it’s OK to be involved in economic development.”

Aside from workforce development, Wynne cited two strategies for Virginia higher ed to pursue. One is to do a better job of getting intellectual property out of the labs and into the market. Other states have found ways to do this; so should Virginia. He would like to see more incubators and accelerators in university communities.

The other strategy is to identify industry clusters where Virginia has particular strengths and to help create a workforce with the skills those clusters need. Collaboration is the key. As an example, he cited a 40-firm cyber-security cluster in Hampton Roads. Local educational institutions need to develop “a new model” — possibly including more “self-paced” courses — in which local industry is much more involved. Already, three cities in the region are collaborating with a regional community foundation to raise money to build the cluster. Said Wynne: “Companies will move to places helping them grow.”

“If you put all your money in the present and none in the future,” he concluded, “you won’t have a future.”

How Budget Cuts Will Affect Virginia Colleges

Proposed budget cuts for Virginia's public institutions of higher education.

Proposed budget cuts for Virginia’s public institutions of higher education. Data source: SCHEV. Click for more legible image.

Proposed cuts in state support for higher education in Virginia next fiscal year will effectively wipe out the extra money the General Assembly had allocated to public colleges and universities at the beginning of the budget cycle, Peter Blake, director of the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV), told his board yesterday. “We’re back to where we started,” he said.

The cuts will come in two forms. In the face of the current revenue shortfall, Governor Terry McAuliffe has proposed a 5% General Fund reduction in appropriations for higher ed over the two-year budget cycle. Plus, the budget amendments would reduce institutions’ appropriations by $24.2 million to recover  adjustments to Virginia Retirement System rates for employees

Besides the cuts to individual institutions, as shown in the table above, the governor proposes cuts to SCHEV itself, the INOVA Global Genomics and Bioinformatics Research Institute, and other line items. The state also is clawing back $5 million in interest earnings and credit card rebates from the colleges and universities.

Blake said that legislators have told him that they will try to restore some of the funds, but added that there were no guarantees.

Marge Connelly, chair of the resources and planning committee, observed that Virginia’s higher education sector needs a more stable revenue stream from the commonwealth but offered no specific suggestions. SCHEV took no formal action in response to the data.

Blake said that the increased state contribution to higher ed in the current fiscal year made possible the lowest tuition hikes in years. Indeed, a legislative analysis presented to SCHEV in November found that state cuts accounted for about half the tuition increases over the past 20 years. However, that doesn’t include increases in fees, room, board and other expenses, so the state budget cuts explain only about 14% of the increased Cost of Attendance.