When I became governor in 2010, Virginia’s educational attainment rate was 10th in the nation. In comparison with other states, our citizenry was well-educated and our proximity to the nation’s capital was paying dividends in economic development for the northern portion of the state.
However, despite our high ranking, just 43 percent of 25-64-year-olds held a postsecondary degree. We had large gaps in attainment across ethnic and economic subgroups. And students growing up in the rural portions of our state faced significant obstacles on the path to obtaining a college degree.
Recognizing the economic importance of educational attainment to the future of the Commonwealth, my administration prioritized higher education access and cost and sought a way to fortify Virginia’s standing as a top source for talent.
To strengthen our commitment to provide all Virginians with, we enacted the Top Jobs Higher Education Act in 2011. This bill established a system of sustained investment and continuous improvement in higher education.
As I reflect back on our success in this area, I am reminded of the power of cross-sector coordination and collaboration. Undoubtedly, this substantial reform would not have happened without the following components:
- A Business Coalition | Early on the Virginia Business Higher Education Council identified the growing need for a highly-skilled workforce and established a coalition of support to elevate degree completion in Virginia. The Council’s Grow by Degrees campaign was the first wave in a series of stakeholder engagement campaigns stressing the need for state investment in higher education that resulted in the right skills for the job needs of the day.
- An Executive Ambassador | Shortly after assuming office, I issued Executive Order No. 9establishing a 30-member Commission on Higher Education Reform dedicated to ensuring instructional excellence and affordable pathways in the state’s higher education system. At the conclusion of its work, the Commission issues a series of recommendations that I personally championed in the Virginia General Assembly.
- Bipartisan Legislative Leaders | Legislative leaders from both parties took ownership in the drafting of the Top Jobs legislation. As a result, the bill received broad bipartisan support and passed the General Assembly unanimously.
Today Virginia’s educational attainment rate has risen to 52 percent and we have positioned ourselves just outside the five most educated states in the nation. Better yet, thanks to the vision, support, and collaboration behind Top Jobs, we know the gains we’ve made are just the beginning.
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Editor’s note: This perspective was originally published by the Hunt Institute. It has been posted with the author’s permission.