One of Virginia’s hidden jewels is our community college system.  For both bang for the buck and ease of access, the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) is perhaps one of our most underutilized resources, not simply because of the architecture or infrastructure, but because of the sheer quality of both the professors and — quite frankly — the students who move through the system.

Governor Glenn Youngkin came into office with specific intentions about how the VCCS should meet the 21st century, ideas which rubbed the existing VCCS board in the wrong way at first.  Chalk it up to politics, image management, or that great enemy of all communication (miscommunication).

Yet with the selection of David Doré as the new chancellor of VCCS, whatever sour first impressions there might have been have seem to done more than end in compromise.  In fact, it is hard to see where anyone could have gone wrong with the selection at all.

From Dwayne Yancey over at Cardinal News:

It’s also become clearer since then that Youngkin has some pretty definite ideas about the community college system. More to the point, the governor has some pretty definite ideas about the state’s economy. He sees more people moving out of the state than moving in, a sign to him that Virginia isn’t creating enough jobs. He also sees lots of jobs already going unfilled. To him, that means one thing: Virginia needs more workers, and one way to train those workers is through the community college system. Youngkin used an appearance in Bristol last fall, as part of the Cardinal News speaker series, to push for more dual-enrollment programs. Specifically, he proposed that every high school student graduate with not just a high school degree but also either a credential or an associate degree from a community college. That would be a mammoth undertaking but Youngkin’s new budget proposals would set Virginia on that path. He’s proposing $15 million to set up a pilot program at five schools – yet to be chosen – across the state. Separately, he’s also proposing a major overhaul of the state’s workforce training programs, many of which are tied to community colleges.

Has any governor since Mills Godwin – under whom the system was founded in the 1960s – paid so much attention to community colleges? Maybe so, but Youngkin has certainly made it clear that much of his economic agenda relies on community colleges, so he has more than a passing interest in who the next chancellor is and what that chancellor does.

More interesting to both Yancey (and perhaps myself) is Doré’s reputation and ability with regards to workforce development, a sore need in rural Virginia that should compliment — and not replace — an interest in the humanities.  In short, to pick on the now lightly-mocked phrase from Senator Marco Rubio, creating both philosophers and welders:

One of Doré’s big initiatives at Pima has been to get the business community more involved with the school. “We really needed to realign the college to the key growth sectors of southern Arizona,” Doré said. “We held large and wide industry summits” to find out what business was interested in. “You need to have industry at the front end of the education funnel, not the back end,” Doré said. “There’s a real disconnect between those who hire and those who teach.”

The result of all those summits was the creation of seven “centers of excellence” – basically training centers focused on things important to the local economy. For Tuscson, that meant applied technology, arts and humanities, aviation, cybersecurity, health care, hospitality and tourism, and public safety. It’s hard to tell from a distance what all that means, but there’s certainly been a lot of activity. A $21 million expansion of the aviation center opened in the fall and the Arizona Daily Star reports that the center will double the output of graduates in aviation mechanics to 75 a year.

Of course, one of the disconnects between education and industry is that we are producing too many graduates in fields small and growing businesses simply cannot use.

The emphasis on dual enrollment, while admirable, should be cautioned.  The purpose of any college experience — yes, even the community college experience — should be the experience of becoming a student.  Doubling up the effort and turning a high school diploma into an associates degree may seem like a way out of mediocrity, but it should signal the fact that our public education system needs dire help, not to point to excess capacity within VCCS and use the system as a lifeboat for try-hards.

The linking of industry to education is admirable, if only for the purpose of reinforcing the narrative that a college education should make one more marketable in the workforce.  Yet utility should not and is not the metric of an education.  Just because one is marketable doesn’t make one educated; the same critique can be applied to credentialism writ large.

The purpose of any education is twofold: (1) to transmit culture, and (2) to improve your soul.  Or in a purely Aristotelian sense, an education which purely serves the purposes of pleasure, wealth, or honor — the practical virtues — is no education at all.  Or Book VII and X of the Nicomachean Ethics if you are so inclined, because in order to be happy, you really don’t need excessive pleasure, wealth, or honor — but something else:

Such arguments then carry some degree of conviction; but it is by the practical experience of life and conduct that the truth is really tested, since it is there that the final decision lies.  We must therefore examine the conclusions we have advanced by bringing them to the these of the facts of life.  If they are in harmony with the facts, we may accept them; if found to disagree, we must deem them mere theories.

And it is very likely that the man who pursues intellectual activity, and who cultivates his intellect and keeps that in the best condition, is also the man most beloved of the gods.  For if, as is generally believed, the gods exercise some superintendence over human affairs, then it will be reasonable to suppose that they take pleasure in that part of man which is best and most akin to themselves, namely the intellect, and that they recompense with their favors those men who esteem and honor this most, because these care for the things dear to themselves, and act rightly and nobly.  (1179a)

In short, plugging people into the economy isn’t going to make anyone happy at the end of the day.  Sure, it might make big business happy, but education gives students something most people can never find — that being, the definition of enough.

Yet the education of the mind and the soul?  That’s something you can buy with a library card (or faithful attendance to the metaphysical: church, synagogue, hiking, music, pick your poison).

Of course, I am absolutely certain that most academics — or at least I am hopeful that most academics — understand this intuitively.  Whether our policy makers in Richmond understand this when the metric of success are zeroes and ones (or raw productivity) is something else entirely.  If you want to build a better Virginia, instill a love of things durable, good, beautiful and true.  That sounds rather esoteric, but that is the primary definition of any education system worthy of the name.