BRCC Official Highlights Successes, Challenges

Daily News-Record  10/11/19
HARRISONBURG — Oftentimes the best way to learn about an organization or institution of higher learning is to hear it straight from the people directly involved.
At an annual community breakfast on Thursday morning, business owners, politicians and other stakeholders heard from a number of former Blue Ridge Community College students via a series of 30-second commercials created to inform the
public about what BRCC has to offer.
They included a woman who enrolled in the college’s law enforcement program because she wanted to serve her community. “My career as a police officer began at Blue Ridge Community College,” she said.
Another featured an electronics student who talked about the school’s flexibility, which was imperative to him as a new father when he first enrolled.
“The deep love of their professions, you can see that,” BRCC President John Downey said.
Downey has been hosting these community breakfasts every year he’s been president, 10 years now.
This year Downey discussed where BRCC is now and the comprehensive nature of the programs it offers. The school offers its transfer program, as well as many career and technical degrees, which employers say are desperately needed in this area, Downey said.
He talked about the Fast Forward program, in which the state pays two-thirds of the tuition for certain programs, while the student pays one-third contingent on the successful completion of a certification.
Currently 85 percent of students are enrolled part time, which has caused BRCC to think in nontraditional ways about how to deliver content to meet the needs of people working full-time jobs and who can take only one class a week, Downey said.
At the end of his presentation,
Downey talked about what’s new at Blue Ridge, the major development being the unveiling of the new biosciences building.
The building houses the nursing program, which has expanded and been enhanced with state-of-the-art dummies that simulate the experience of a patient. It also houses the paramedic program, a field that is in demand, Downey said.
One of the about 70 people in attendance asked if Downey could address the issue of enrollment, which has been on the decline. This is not a problem just at BRCC, but community colleges across the commonwealth.
About 25 percent of the local graduating classes attend BRCC. Where the school has declined is in the 35-to 65-year-old market, which represents people becoming retrained in another field. Enrollment is down 28% in this demographic.
That speaks to the need for BRCC to look for more nontraditional ways to reach students and to create more flexible programs to fit individuals’ lifestyles.