Posted on Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Editor’s note: In late September, the family of former Virginia governor Gerald Baliles announced that, after a four-year battle with cancer, Baliles had entered a palliative care program. Newspaper editorials across the state praised the 79-year-old Democrat as one of modern Virginia’s most consequential governors, best known for marshalling support for major transportation improvements and tax reform during his term in office 1986-1989. But Baliles also was a major champion of education, and community college education in particular, serving as chairman of the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education in 2014 and 2015. 

“Let’s start with one unalterable fact: An education will not guarantee a good job. But without an education, the person seeking that proverbial good job is virtually guaranteed that he or she won’t find one.” – Gerald Baliles, promoting the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative, Feb. 2013

As a Virginia lawmaker, state attorney general, governor, big-time lawyer and then director of the prestigious Miller Center at VCCS BlogUVA, Gerald Baliles spent much of his career in close proximity to Virginia’s urban power centers. But it’s clear he did not forget his roots in tiny Patrick County in Southwest Virginia.

Always an advocate for education, Baliles created the Patrick County Education Foundation (PCEF) in 2001 with a goal to change the culture of the county, boost high school graduation and GED attainment rates, promote college and workforce training and thereby make Patrick County more attractive to employers.

PCEF met its goals, and a little more than a decade later, Baliles took the lead again. Partnering with the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education (VFCCE), Baliles spearheaded the creation of the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative (RVHI) in 2013 to boost educational and economic opportunities for Virginians far removed from the state’s business centers. Fourteen of our colleges serve the far-flung region.

The Rural Horseshoe stretches from Eastern Shore across Southside and Southwest Virginia, up the Shenandoah Valley and then back eastward toward the Northern Piedmont. The area comprises about three-quarters of Virginia’s geographic area.

More than 2 million people live in the Rural Horseshoe, and if it were a separate state, it would rank 50th in the nation in educational attainment. Nineteen percent of adults there did not graduate high school.

Baliles knew the challenge was daunting, but was undeterred. And he knew the long- term costs to all Virginians if one region continued to lag behind the rest of the commonwealth. His admonition informs the VFCCE’s main document that makes the case for the RVHI:

“There are costs that come from a citizenry that is not prepared to deal with a rapidly changing world—and they will be borne by all of Virginia, regardless of where those costs occur.”

“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 VFCCE. “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.”

The Foundation has announced $1.5 million in funding through the RVHI in the current academic year to promote rural education. 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, Paul D. Camp, Patrick Henry, Rappahannock, Southside Virginia, and Southwest Virginia.

Former governor Gerald Baliles at PHCC workforce training facility dedication in Stuart, August 27.

Shortly before his family announced Baliles’s health status, the former governor made a point of being on hand as Patrick Henry Community College opened new state-of-the-art workforce training facilities in the town of Stuart on August 27.

“He was the unquestionable lynchpin in PHCC’s recent Patrick County expansion, said Greg Hodges, PHCC vice president of academic and student success services. “His tireless efforts in advancing the educational and economic wellbeing of this region will be felt for generations.”

Said Angeline Godwin, PHCC president, “Governor Baliles is a champion of education, who sees teaching and learning as the cornerstone of our economic well-being. PHCC has been the beneficiary of his vision and passion as we offer education and training to the citizens of our service region.”

Learn more about the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative, one of the VFCCE’s signature programs, here.'

Jim Babb

Jim Babb works for Virginia's Community Colleges in the Office of Strategic Communications.

1 Comment

  1. ?

    Peter Shaw

    Met the former Governor when he was a member of the House Appropriations Committee and I worked for the Vice Chair of the committee. Then worked on his campaign for Attorney General. Worked in his AG office before coming to Tidewater Community College. He is the most progressive thinker and communicator of any Virginia political leader that I have ever met. With simple words he could create an awe inspiring vision for all to enjoy. A rare Virginia leader, indeed.


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