#30 of 30in30: Community Colleges are as important to Virginia as “The air we breathe.”


Governor Mills Godwin (center right) and Chancellor Dana Hamel (far left) played key roles in planning the systemwide network of community colleges 46 years ago.

46 years of elevating Virginia

Thank you so much for taking the ride with us over the last 30 days of this blog series. It’s been a lot of fun to do. Your comments and “likes” here and on Facebook have added so much to it.

Virginia’s Community Colleges were created 46 years ago to address Virginia’s unmet needs in higher education and workforce training.

Their beginning was slow and controversial. Governor Mills Godwin – who ran for the office on a pledge not to raise taxes – successfully convinced the General Assembly as well as the people of Virginia, in a statewide referendum, to agree to create a one penny sales tax to pay for community colleges.

7,500 students were served in the inaugural year at two colleges, Virginia Western in Roanoke and Northern Virginia. Another 21 colleges would be built or adopted into the system as was the case with Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville.

30waysThis year, more than 400,000 students are being served by 23 colleges that operate 40 campuses, several dozen off-campus centers and have employees in more than half of Virginia’s high schools.

The workforce training side of the mission is sometimes harder to tabulate. While customized training is offered and used across the state, even more people use the colleges just to take a class here or there to keep their job skills sharp and updated.


Gov. Bob McDonnell in a visit to Germanna

Our workforce training opportunities can also make the biggest splashes, sometimes serving as the reason that headline-grabbing economic development deals are made and big employers, life Rolls Royce or Canon, Virginia, decide to locate or expand their operations in Virginia.

Governor Bob McDonnell talks about Virginia’s Community Colleges all the time, recognizing the central role they will play in his public policy goal of creating an additional 100,000 Virginia college graduates by the year 2025.


Former Gov. Tim Kaine, here shown announcing the Virginia Education Wizard, said Virginia needs her community colleges like "the air that we breathe."

His predecessor, former Governor Tim Kaine, said during his term that Virginia’s Community Colleges had become as important to Virginia as the air that we breathe.


Gov. Mark Warner visiting with Chancellor Glenn DuBois in 2003

And his predecessor,  former Governor Mark Warnersaid that if Virginia didn’t already have a community college system, one would have to be built immediately.

Thank goodness; its already here.

Where to now? The people we serve – the students, their families and employers – typically decide that for our colleges. Virginia’s Community Colleges exist to meet their needs – and succeed when they succeed.

We do know one thing, however: It’s only going to get better and more exciting from here.


Dr. Dana Hamel, left, with former SWCC President Charles King, posing in front of a photo of them 40 years earlier surveying land for community colleges.

We’ve believed that from day one.

Just like our founding chancellor, Dr. Dana Hamel, always says, “It’s a great day to be alive in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Editor’s Note: 30 Ways in 30 Days Virginia’s Community Colleges are Elevating Virginia is a month-long blog series dedicated to exploring some of the many creative and inspiring ways our colleges are helping people find and create opportunity. The series is part of the VCCS tribute to National Community College Month. To read more of the series just click on the “30 ways in 30 days” category.

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