VA Education Secretary discusses higher ed partnerships

Holton encourages University to diversify

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Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton spoke to members of the University Board of Visitors Thursday about problems within Virginia’s education system and potential solutions to address them.

Holton encouraged the University to form stronger links with Virginia community colleges and regional high schools.

Holton said increasing the number of transfer students from community college would help the University increase both its affordability and socioeconomic diversity. To this end, the University should consider sending representatives to improve community college advising programs and help students understand which classes they need to take in order to transfer.

“It’s all about communication,” Holton said. “Anything you can do to strengthen the communication between [the University] and the community college. … For instance, if your goal is this, then this is the path you need to take, these are the classes you should be taking, [and] these are the credits we will honor.”

Holton also said the University should reach out more to local K-12 systems, like Albemarle High School and Monticello High School. Instead of competing for high-achieving students, the University could focus on students who have college potential, yet come from low-income backgrounds. By helping these students through high school and guiding them toward specific programs, Holton said the University could play a key role in helping them succeed.

University President Teresa Sullivan said the University has started to introduce programs to local high schools and middle schools in the past few years.

“We have been working with the Charlottesville and Albemarle middle schools to develop an engineering curriculum, and both our Engineering School and [Education] School have been working together,” Sullivan said. “One of the ideas of the curriculum is to get middle schoolers working early on — not just with their heads, but with their hands. They use 3-D printers, and it’s a great way to reinforce lessons such as geometry principles.”

At the end of her speech, Holton also mentioned McAuliffe’s plan to cut state university budgets by five percent this year and seven percent the next, addressing questions of how this will affect the University.

“Obviously, it’s a balance — and we all know that state support has declined over the last decade, considerably for higher education,” Holton said. “We anticipate that folks ought to be able to do the five percent cut that we’re asking for this year without major tuition increases, and we hope that people will look to tuition as a last resort as you move into bigger cuts. You and every university needs to be doing what they can to operate more efficiently.”

Third-year Nursing student Chelsea Parker addressed her own concerns about University budget cuts and what they will mean for students who rely on financial aid programs.

“I have been so much more aware of the problems that are fighting the funding programs that a lot of times determine what students come to the University,” Park said. “We’ve had so many discussions but action is absent. People need to know that students are definitely concerned about these issues.”

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