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Online Virginia Network Board Meets, Elects Officers

By Jon Cawley

The Online Virginia Network board met for the first time July 14 at Old Dominion University to elect leaders, approve a budget and establish the groundwork to set in motion the state-supported initiative intended to fuel the Commonwealth's economy by helping Virginians complete degrees.

The Online Virginia Network is a partnership between Old Dominion and George Mason University that was supported by Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the General Assembly. It builds on the commitment of both universities to making college more accessible for working adults and non-traditional students.

The initiative targets adult learners who may have college credits but never finished their degrees. Many of these students live too far from a traditional campus or are without the luxury of time to attend classes in person.

Old Dominion President John R. Broderick lauded the collaborative and innovative approach to the initiative and focus on providing quality and affordable degrees that are accessible, especially to those adult learners who otherwise may face insurmountable hurdles to completing their education.

"To know people who live in rural parts of the state can remain there and get a degree, and enhance the workforce, instead of picking up and leaving and not going back - it's all very exciting," President Broderick said. "These high demand programs are needed to create a large workforce in that area. We can do great things."

The network's board includes: ODU President John R. Broderick; GMU President Angel Cabrera; the Honorable Del. Lashrecse Aird; Peter Blake, chair of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association executive committee; the Honorable Del. Kirk Cox; the Honorable Sen. Rosalyn Dance; the Honorable Del. Tag Greason; James W. Hazel, GMU board of visitors member; the Honorable Sen. Steve Newman; Ron Ripley, former ODU Board of Visitors member and University rector; the Honorable Del. Nick Rush; and the Honorable Sen. Bill Stanley.

At the July 14 meeting, the board unanimously elected Del. Kirk Cox to serve as chairman and Sen. Bill Stanley to serve as vice chairman. The panel also unanimously adopted a $3 million budget for the initiatives FY17 and FY18 pilot years.

Del. Cox noted that the board is at the "genesis - the start of something exciting."

In a board presentation, Ellen Neufeldt, ODU vice president for student engagement and enrollment services; and Michelle Marks, GMU's vice president for academic innovation and new ventures, outlined the development of the OVN initiative citing statistics that show 29 percent of students who started a degree program in 2007 are no longer taking classes; about 1.1 million people in Virginia have some college experience; and 647,000 Virginia residents started but did not finish degree coursework.

"Those statistics are staggering," Marks said. "I think the OVN initiative is a way to combine the best resources across Virginia to support that population. We want to put programs in front of them that are tied to the labor force and growth of the economy here in Virginia."

Neufeldt added that the long-term goal is to lower costs of higher education.

"We need students to know this is an affordable pathway to move forward," she said. "The most important thing, after getting them in, is to graduate them. ODU and GMU graduation rates are 30 percent higher than the national average. We want to be the national leader in that environment."

To learn more about the Online Virginia Network visit onlinevirginia.net.

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