A community town hall on the future of Eastern Shore Community College was held Wednesday afternoon at the Great Hall at the College. The event was to begin a discussion on how the Community College can better serve the needs of Eastern Shore employers and at the same time prepare local residents for careers.
The session featured Mr. Jeff Holland, Chairman of the Eastern Shore Community College Board of Directors, Dr. Glenn Dubois, Chancellor of the Virginia State Community College System and Robin Sullenberger, Chairman of the State Board for Community Colleges.
Dr. DuBois stated that high school is no longer the end of the line for education. He said that those who do not continue education have a 30% chance of living a middle class life and those who drop out of high school have a zero percent chance.
Statistics were presented on local unemployment rates with Accomack now with a 3.3% rate while Northampton is a bit higher at 4.6% unemployed. The Virginia State unemployment rate is 2.8%.
DuBois stated that there are several issues that impede individuals from pursuing educational opportunities that could lead to a more productive and satisfying career.
DuBois cited ALICE which stands for Access, Limiting, Income, Constrained, Employed. These are people who are employed but lack the resources and time needed to improve their situations. These are people who have to work to pay rent, buy food and keep the lights on but cannot come up with the money or time to continue their education.
Among the possible solutions were to design courses that will train specific skills such as pluming, carpentry, CDL training, and many others and to partner with local school systems to provide these services through the shared use of facilities and staff.
Among other problems cited are lack of child care for students, the need for a student emergency fund so if a student has a problem like a needed car repair that would normally prevent he or she from attending class. It was suggested that an on site day care facility be considered at the college. Chancellor DuBois said that in some instances Va. Community Colleges offer land on the campus for private operators to build facilities.
Other items including the lack of opportunities for students to learn agriculture, aquaculture, and hospitality, three of the Eastern Shore’s leading industries.
A discussion also ensued about the opportunities at Wallops. It was brought up that according to Wallops officials, it is necessary to engage children at a young age rather than wait until they leave high school. One of the suggestions was to work with the school systems to encourage frequent field trips to the Wallops Flight Facility for elementary, junior high and high school students and to partner with NASA on projects that will create interest in pursuing skills that will make them employable in the future at Wallops or other facilities.
Dr. DuBois said that the answers to all of these issues cannot come from Richmond but have to be worked out locally.
An on line survey has been posted on the Eastern Shore Community College Web Site to allow anyone who was unable to make the Town Hall meeting to participate as well.