Virginia Western Community College was awarded a 5-year, $1.8-million grant from the U.S. Department of Education Title III Strengthening Institutions Program (SIP) to develop and support educational pathways to help underserved adult learners graduate and achieve successful employment. The program, titled Get REAL (Refocus Education on Adult Learners), will support the up-scaling of services to effectively reach out to and support adult learners, especially those from low-income circumstances.

“Now, more than ever, adult learners need our support as they seek the education and hands-on training they need to build a career and improve their families’ lives,” said Dr. Robert H. Sandel, President of Virginia Western. “This grant will help us focus on these students’ unique needs and boost our region’s economic recovery. 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.”

The Get REAL project’s main goals are to: (1) Improve College Access (enrollment) for all, especially adult and underrepresented learners; (2) Improve Academic Success (student outcomes), especially for underrepresented adult learners; and (3) Begin to track and improve Economic Success (labor market outcomes) for Career and Technical Education (CTE) program graduates (courses intended to lead to immediate employment).

“Virginia Western offers adult learners many excellent career training and re-training opportunities. More people could benefit from these programs and that’s why this grant is so important,” said Dr. Milan Hayward, Vice President of the School of Corporate and Career Training and the Get REAL project director. “Working with Achieving the Dream and CAEL will help us focus new and existing resources to ensure more adult learners – especially those from under-represented groups – achieve greater academic and economic success. It’s a college, community, and national imperative.”

A key facet of the Virginia Western proposal is that the college will work with national education reform organizations Achieving the Dream (ATD) and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) to develop the program. The college will incorporate best practices to create more relevant programmatic experiences, improved workplace readiness, organizational alignment and fiscal stability. Adult learners will not only gain hands-on training experiences, but will also learn how to manage their finances and thrive in the workplace.

“Informed by data, benchmarks and best practices, this Title III SIP grant will strengthen and better serve our adult learners-particularly those who are the neediest to better economic success,” said Marilyn Herbert-Ashton, Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Director of Grants.

The Get Real project officially started on October 1 and will run until Sept. 30, 2025, although lessons learned and best practices will continue for years to come.