What is Get REAL?

VWCC’s focused and professional examination of culture, processes, and inclusive strategies in service to adult learners.

Like other community colleges, VWCC has seen a decline in public support, enrollments, and revenues along with underwhelming outcomes, especially among underserved and adult learners. President Sandel is determined to reverse this situation, and his vision led the college leadership team to begin the work of becoming a more adult learner-focused institution.

Did you know?

The average program-placed VWCC student age is 25. 66% of students are adult learners, age 20 and older. 68% of all program-placed students are part-time.

VWCC Data (2019-20)

“The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected us all, but it has had a disproportionate impact on individuals who struggle to make ends meet during the best of times. Now we will have more opportunities to help these people find their pathway to the middle class through higher education.”

Dr. Robert H. Sandel
President, VWCC

Who's Helping Us?

Virginia Western is working closely with national education reformers the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and Achieving the Dream (ATD).

Refocus Education on Adult Learners (REAL)

Informed by data and best practice, this Title III Strengthening Institutions Program (SIP) promotes the continued transformation of VWCC to better serve adult learners – the new majority in higher education – especially adults from low-income backgrounds. Working closely with national education reformers including the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and Achieving the Dream (ATD), the college has begun to assess, pilot, and bring to scale best practices, promising services, and innovative positions to Refocus Education on Adult Learners (REAL). The resulting college model will be more relevant and better prepared to serve adult learners, students from low-income circumstances, and all students in a more effective fashion.

It should be noted that Get REAL does not signify less interest in traditional students. It is, however, a rejection of the notion that VWCC can simply look to dual-enrolled high school students, or recent high school graduates, to fulfill its mission. Adult learners typically present as working parents, veterans and military personnel, caregivers and other adults with competing demands in their lives that affect their ability to balance work, family and education. There is no one blueprint for refocusing a community college on adult learners, but CAEL’s research and resulting work regarding Adult Learner Focused Institutions (ALFI) provides a framework on which Get REAL will rely. ATD will provide technical assistance and coaching to support the integration and implementation of this framework here at VWCC.

Get REAL's three primary goals:

  1. Improve College Access (enrollment) for all, especially underserved and adult learners;
  2. Improve Academic Success (student outcomes), especially for underserved and adult learners;
  3. Track and improve Economic Success (labor market outcomes), especially among graduates of career and technical programs.

How will this initiative benefit students?

  • Engaged students make successful students.
  • Training and education will align with a new economy, family-sustaining wages, and upward mobility.
  • Credit for Prior Learning (CPL) support for adults.
  • Specially scheduled courses that allow more flexibility for adults juggling other responsibilities.
  • Emphasis on Guided Pathways with Loss Point Advising.
  • More experiential learning and career guidance.
  • Curricula with greater (workplace) relevance.
  • More obvious career preparation.
  • Greater employer engagement and more work-based experiences.
  • Guidance and help with paying for college.

How will this initiative benefit VWCC and the community as a whole?

  • A strengthened institution prepared to attract and meet the needs of contemporary consumers of education in ways that serve them best.
  • Institutionalization of best practices.
  • Increased revenue due to increased student enrollment and retention. A more equitable environment in which all students can learn, achieve, and succeed.
  • Increased enrollment, improved student success, and improved labor market outcomes for lifelong learners in the 21st century.
  • Greater participation from Roanoke communities of need.

How can faculty and staff get involved?

  • Have an open mind. Be open to change when needed.
  • Intentionally engage in equity mindfulness. Equal access may not mean equitable access.
  • Begin thinking about more experiential education opportunities that you could suggest and plan.
  • Participate in related professional development opportunities.
  • Provide insights and feedback.
  • Membership on CORE and Data teams.
  • Serve on implementation groups for near-term strategies.

REAL Successes

  • Increased community presence, particularly in under-reached areas of the service region. Community visibility has increased, including an office at the Roanoke EnVision Center and participation in various outreach events on and off campus.
  • Funding for key positions to support adult learners. Get REAL funding allows for a CPL Specialist, a College Affordability Navigator, and an Adult Career and Work Based Learning Advisor.
  • Institutionalize and bring Credit for Prior Learning (CPL) to scale. The number of credits awarded for prior learning have increased from 611 in AY2020-21 to 1437 in AY2022-23.
  • Successfully implemented CLEP and DSST testing in the Testing Center providing additional support services for our adult learners.
  • Institutionalize financial literacy education. Financial literacy classes are being offered on campus and at the Roanoke EnVision Center.
  • Pilot special course schedules. Seven-week courses begin Summer 2024. These courses can be a valuable option for non-traditional learners seeking a flexible, accelerated, and focused learning experience that aligns with unique needs and schedules.
  • Institutional management redesign. VWCC adopted a “one-door” approach to create a student-centered, streamlined, integrated system that simplifies access to all programs and services. The goal is to improve accessibility, reduce administrative barriers and increase student success.
  • Increase Fralin Future Finish Line scholarships. As of 2024, Get REAL has contributed $100,000 toward future Fralin Future Finish Line scholarships provided through the Virginia Western Educational Foundation. Another $45,000 will be provided in Year 5 of the grant.
  • Increased fall-to-fall retention of first-time students (full-time and part-time) by 7% as of Year 3 of the grant.
  • Completed mapping of certifications from Workforce Solutions to Academics for prior learning credit in Mechatronics and Phlebotomy. Completed mapping of certifications in Automotive Analysis and Repair, Early Childhood Development and Criminal Justice to award credit for prior learning.

Would you like to know more?

Contact: Crystal Hall
Get REAL Activity Coordinator