How Virginia joined the short list of “Talent, Innovation, and Equity” states leading the way in education and jobs progress
Two years after white supremacists marched in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, state leaders remain determined to show their commitment to inclusion. The latest sign of that mood could be the state's entry into Lumina Foundation’s growing partnership of leaders working to increase the number of people with college degrees and other credentials beyond high school.
Virginia is our newest “TIE” state – a member of the Talent, Innovation, and Equity Partnership. The program provides states with research, funding, and related support to help them lead the way in addressing racial disparities in college degrees and other credentials.
The commonwealth is embracing five key strategies to advance racial and social justice, including a drive to increase educational access and career success for everyone and a commitment to embed post-high school learning opportunities into every social benefits program.
While apparently not gone completely, the Klan and neo-Nazi interest in Virginia has been muted in the years following the racist demonstrations. A 2017 federal lawsuit filed against promoters of the rallies names 14 people and 10 organizations and is still headed for trial.
But as we’ve learned elsewhere, the work is never finished. Gov. Ralph S. Northam reminded us recently that Virginia was named the best state for business because of its investments in education and workforce development. But Virginians still face persistent, geographic, racial, and socioeconomic disparities in opportunity and outcomes.
“In communities across the Commonwealth, many still struggle to secure a quality education, affordable health care, and stable housing – essential components of an effective path out of poverty,” Northam said in a letter to Lumina President and CEO Jamie Merisotis.
Lumina’s $500,000 TIE grant makes Virginia the fourth state (along with Colorado, Oregon, and Tennessee) to join our commitment to fair educational outcomes and educating more students of color. The state will seek to increase the proportion of residents with college degrees by 5 percentage points among both Black and Hispanic residents. Under the plan, for example, Virginia will seek to identify adults with some college but no degree and help them re-enroll.
The state also will marshal data about certificate programs that can lead people to even more formal learning and better jobs. Certificates and other quality credentials are critical in developing talent for a changing economy.
We’re glad to see policymakers embrace not just the economic value of working toward racial equity, but the bright goal of fairness that is central to our nation’s conception of opportunity. As we can see on Lumina’s Stronger Nation website – a searchable data-visualization tool showing attainment data down to the county level – fewer than a third of the nation’s Native American, Hispanic, and Black residents have earned credentials beyond a high school diploma, compared with 47.1 percent of whites.
It’s good to remember that the four TIE states are among 43 that have set clear goals for equity in education. We’re encouraged to see more states making talent growth a priority, and we hope to see more resources devoted to education and training after high school.
As more states think about the interconnections between talent development and other policy areas, we believe Lumina can help facilitate conversations. As that happens, as we move beyond the “siloed” thinking that has limited us in the past, we will see the equity disparities begin to disappear.
That means more people from all backgrounds will begin to earn college degrees and other quality credentials. We’ll see employers finally able to attract the skilled workers they need. We’ll see these benefits – to individuals, to families, to communities, and to society – if we keep talent, innovation, and equity in the forefront.