Virginia Tech President Charles Steger today joined Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, three other Virginia university presidents, and Cisco President and Chief Executive Officer John T. Chambers, via Cisco TelePresence to discuss the progress of the 4-VA initiative and the pilot projects for instructional and resource sharing among Virginia’s higher education institutions.

George Mason University President Alan Merten, James Madison University President Linwood Rose, and University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan also participated in the discussion.

4-VA is a consortium of four Virginia universities formed to launch a pilot program using Cisco TelePresence, an immersive video technology, to establish a shared infrastructure that will eventually be offered to all Virginia higher education institutions in order to improve the quality and affordability of, and access to, higher education.

McDonnell and Secretary of Education Laura Fornash, who moderated the live demonstration, participated from George Mason University along with Merten. John Chambers appeared from Cisco’s headquarters in San Jose, Calif., while Steger, Rose, and Sullivan participated from their respective campuses’ newly installed Cisco TelePresence facilities.

The four university presidents formed 4-VA in response to Governor McDonnell’s Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation and Investment which called for the reforms outlined in landmark legislation passed in 2011 “Preparing for the Top Jobs of the 21st Century: The Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2011.”

The Top Jobs Act will increase access and affordability of higher education in the Commonwealth, creating a pathway towards awarding 100,000 more degrees over the next 15 years and will bring more innovation and accountability and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) concentration to Virginia’s colleges and universities. The act provides for sustained reform-based investment and innovation in delivery of higher education services, as well as extending college degree opportunities to more citizens in creative, cost-effective ways. Institutions’ six-year plans will address strategies and use of incentives for, among other initiatives, technology-enhanced instruction and resource-sharing across the higher education system.

“Virginia is fortunate that our higher education institutions are among the best in the nation,” said McDonnell. “The challenge is how we make our institutions more effective and efficient—individually and collectively—while maintaining quality. If we are to afford awarding 100,000 additional degrees we must create alternative pathways to degree attainment that increase the number of graduates while reducing the overall cost of a college degree.

The use of technologies such as TelePresence to help leverage resources will become more and more important in the delivery of higher education. From reducing the cost of on campus instruction to providing dual enrollment opportunities for high school students, technology can lower costs while increasing access. This will help increase access while holding down costs for tuition-paying students and their families.”

4-VA will utilize emerging technologies to increase access, reduce time to graduation and reduce costs while maintaining and enhancing quality. Instructional talent across the four institutions will be leveraged in the delivery of programs in foreign languages, science, technology, engineering and mathematics to create meaningful changes in the delivery of education and further prepare students for jobs in the global economy.

“Higher education continues to be a cornerstone for our country’s economic growth. I applaud the leadership of Governor McDonnell and the four universities in driving this transformative effort. They have demonstrated tremendous progress in establishing the foundation to effectively increase access to higher education resources across the commonwealth through the power of collaboration,” said Chambers.

The 2011 Virginia General Assembly appropriated $3.4 million to support 4-VA’s upstart in Fiscal Year 2012. Each of the four universities has provided financial support and human resource support to launch the efforts.

It was announced today that the first course offerings via Cisco TelePresence in the 2012 spring semester will be Advanced Chinese and Chinese business language, important foreign language courses for Virginia’s economic future. Instructors at George Mason University will teach the courses to students at James Madison University and Virginia Tech.

4-VA’s other priority projects in Fiscal Year 2012 are:

  • To design a distance education degree completion program in Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship aimed at community college graduates, particularly those from rural Virginia, who have been unable to enroll at a four-year institution;
  • To identify STEM courses that have high drop-out rates and then recruit faculty from the 4-VA universities for a summer course redesign project focused on improving student success in those courses;
  • To identify topic areas where one university has specific research expertise needed by the other universities in order to increase research competitiveness by initiating projects that share this expertise across universities;
  • To enable the sharing of courses across universities when one university has the faculty resource to teach a course strategic to Virginia’s economic future but another university does not; and
  • To establish a team of mathematics faculty and others to begin the design of a mathematics learning infrastructure, modeled on Virginia Tech’s Math Emporium, which will be open to all of Virginia higher education.

This story was provided by Jeff Caldwell, press secretary to Gov. McDonnell.