A Modest Proposal

In 1729, Jonathan Swift satirically described his modest proposal to sell poor Irish children as food to eliminate them as a burden to the public and their parents. There are other modest proposals that are far less gruesome and terrifying that can make a difference. One of them involves the concept of “work colleges.”

Virginia’s political and business leadership has for years spent time and money lamenting the fate of the Commonwealth’s southwest region (SWVA). Media reports continually cite data demonstrating the area’s brain drain and out-migration of younger residents. At the same time, these leaders, along with the General Assembly, debate measures and appropriate large sums for workforce development in existing higher education institutions, including some to stabilize tuition costs to ensure financial affordability for student populations.

A work college (www.workcolleges.org) in SWVA offers a modest proposal to create a hub around which allied state efforts could be integrated to begin to create solutions to regional problems, including out-migration and brain drain. Eight of these work colleges presently exist across eight states, each with a distinct mission but sharing a common principle of dedication to their localities. A significant portion of support for a work college is derived from the work or labor of its students.

The closing of Job Corps centers (aka Civilian Conservation Corps) in SWVA presents a perfect opportunity to reestablish workforce and educational opportunity in the area. Both the Job Corps and existing work college operations in Vermont and North Carolina present models for one in SWVA. As Senators Warner and Kaine join with colleagues to save the Job Corps program, they would be well advised to team up with state leaders to identify existing funds appropriated for higher education to establish a work college dedicated to Virginia’s needs, especially those in SWVA. It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel, but fixing a flat tire can get the vehicle on the road again.

An educational nucleus already exists in SWVA with the University of Virginia’s Wise campus. Finding the formula to associate the two institutions and apply educational synergy to the area’s economic distress could be a win for all.

An educational nucleus already exists in SWVA with the University of Virginia’s Wise campus. Finding the formula to associate the two institutions and apply educational synergy to the area’s economic distress could be a win for all.

Job Corps centers generally focus on at-risk youth ages 16–24. Establishment of a work college in SWVA for high school- and college-age students would provide a transition opportunity for many previously served by the Corps and extend educational opportunity into the community college level and beyond, through articulation agreements with some of Virginia’s four-year institutions.

Nearly 300 years after Swift’s coarse satire, the responsibility of the Commonwealth’s leadership cadre is to identify and execute public policies that are proven and effective. All the parts are in place—only the imagination and will need follow.



Categories: Issues, Local

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