Baliles-inspired initiative at Virginia’s Community Colleges will invest $1.5 million to promote rural education this year


Through the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative (RVHI), the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education and Virginia’s Community Colleges will invest $1.5 million in the 2019-2020 academic year to increase high school graduation rates and the attainment of post-secondary credentials.

Welding students at Patrick Henry Community College, part of Virginia's Rural Horseshoe.
Students at Patrick Henry Community College, part of Virginia’s Rural Horseshoe.

RVHI was established in 2013 under the leadership of former Virginia Governor Gerald Baliles, and serves a large portion of rural Virginia, stretching from the Eastern Shore across Southside to Southwest Virginia, up the Shenandoah Valley and back eastward toward the Northern Neck.

The region encompasses three-quarters of the commonwealth’s territory and is home to 2.1 million people.  In Virginia’s Rural Horseshoe, more than half a million people have less than a high school education.

Virginia's Rural Horseshoe

“We are grateful for the leadership of Governor Baliles for this remarkable program,” said Jennifer Gentry, Vice Chancellor of Institutional Advancement for Virginia’s Community Colleges and Executive Director of the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education. “His work to highlight the needs of rural Virginia has been transformative and produced lasting results for tens of thousands of students across the Rural Horseshoe. We are very proud to continue this initiative and to see it grow and thrive.”

Inspired by Results

Modeled after the successful Patrick County Educational Foundation program implemented by Governor Baliles in his native Patrick County, RVHI provides funding that is matched dollar-for-dollar by the local community college foundation along with an annual allocation from the General Assembly. That combined funding goes directly to cover the costs associated with career coaches, education incentives, and other efforts to increase the educational success of rural residents.

“Last year, 60% of coached high school seniors went on to college,” said Caroline Lane, Project Director of the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative. “RVHI also has provided more than 600 adults with scholarships for training to get jobs. These numbers indicate a real impact in rural Virginia.”

“Because colleges can create their own strategies to raise educational attainment, an often overlooked benefit of this program is that the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative is producing innovations and best practices that are spreading to other programs and being adopted throughout the state,” added Lane. “RVHI is truly a best practice incubator for student success.”

Virginia community colleges receiving and matching RVHI funding for the 2019-2020 academic year include Blue Ridge, Dabney S. Lancaster, Eastern Shore, Lord Fairfax, Mountain Empire, New River, Paul D. Camp, Patrick Henry, Rappahannock, Southside Virginia, and Southwest Virginia.

The Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative aims to cut in half the number of residents in the region who lack a high school diploma or GED, and to double the percentage of rural residents who earn an associate degree or other college certification in the Rural Horseshoe region. To date, the RVHI has provided more than $9 million in direct and matched funding toward achieving these goals.