Top of the class
VCCS’ new chancellor has big plans
In April, David Doré started his new job as Virginia Community College System chancellor, stepping into the shoes of the retired Glenn DuBois, who held the position for 21 years.
A Pennsylvania native who once considered becoming a Jesuit priest, Doré is a former high school teacher who once took his students to meet PBS icon Mister Rogers on a field trip. He joins the college system at a time when it’s under a bright spotlight.
The search for DuBois’ replacement took on a political tenor after Gov. Glenn Youngkin objected to being left out of the hiring process last year, when the state community college board announced it had hired a Michigan college president as VCCS chancellor. However, Russell Kavalhuna backed out last June, leaving a vacancy.
Doré, who most recently was president of campuses and executive vice chancellor for student experience and workforce development at Tucson, Arizona-based Pima Community College, was hired in January with the vocal support of Youngkin, who has promoted workforce education programs run through the state’s community colleges as a solution to skilled labor shortages.
With 23 colleges and nearly 150,000 students under his purview, Doré quickly got started visiting each college in his first weeks on the job. In June, having finished his tour, Doré sat down for an interview with Virginia Business at VCCS’ headquarters in Chesterfield County.
In August, Doré plans to roll out VCCS’ legislative agenda during his chancellor’s retreat to an audience that will likely include Youngkin and other state officials.
Doré says that he believes in the system’s role in creating more opportunities, especially for people in economically disadvantaged areas of the state. One of his chief goals, too, is to see that all Virginia high school students graduate with a community college credential under their belts, whether it’s a marketable job certification or a credit that transfers toward their bachelor’s degree.
Doré and his husband, Chauncey Roach, a Veterans Affairs nurse who served in the Air Force, live in Richmond with their dog, Riley, and enjoy running in the city’s parks.
Virginia Business: How does VCCS compare with other community college systems?
David Doré: I was somewhat familiar with this system, and there were a couple of items that really stood out for me.
One is that the Virginia Community College System had initiated … FastForward, which is a short-term, noncredit credential program that was very well-known throughout the country. I think that was one of the first impressions that I had, that this was a forward-thinking system.
I’ve served 27 years in the community college sector. I spent the majority of that time in the California community college system, where the community college districts are independent. Even though there is a chancellor, the presidents don’t report to the chancellor.
Then I spent about 10 years in Arizona, and those are independent districts. What really attracted me about this position was that the 23 colleges are one system. I think it provides an opportunity for alignment across the entire commonwealth of Virginia, particularly with the needs of business and industry.
VB: As far as which programs are being offered at the colleges, is there a real difference depending on where you are geographically?
Doré: In some instances, yes. For example, Northern Virginia is home to data centers, and so a lot of the focus is going to be focused on regional needs in terms of business and industry. Certain sectors and regions of the commonwealth are in need of certain kinds of workers. If you go into the Hampton Roads area, one of the largest employers there, of course, is the Newport News Shipyard.
With that said, I think that we can do an even better job of aligning more from a regional perspective.
Now, in certain aspects for transfer education, which is a really important part of what we do, many programs [are] similar from college to college because, again, we want to have a real seamless alignment for our students who are transferring to the four-year schools. If you’re taking an English class at [Northern Virginia Community College] or you’re taking an English class at [Southwest Virginia Community College], that class needs to transfer to all of the same transfer institutions.
Around health care, pretty much every region of the commonwealth has health care [labor] needs. In some instances, I think we’re going to see some scaling [up] of certain programs in certain parts of the commonwealth and will actually need to do some realigning, from my perspective.
VB: Was there anything that surprised you during your tour?
Doré: We are doing incredibly innovative things at the colleges. I think that was really powerful for me to see firsthand some of the innovations.
I was really, really impressed with how our faculty and staff have embraced emerging technologies. One example is in the health care space. Right now, there’s a challenge in health care around clinical placements [for students], but educational institutions are permitted to have about 25% of the [in-class] simulations count for clinical placements.
For example, when I was doing the tour [at Virginia Peninsula Community College], I delivered a baby. I literally delivered a baby. It was all simulated. [Laughter]
VB: Whoa — how did that work?
Doré: Again, this is all [a] simulation, [in which] there was a woman in the middle of childbirth. I accompanied the EMT students who took her in the ambulance, and then we went to the hospital. This mannequin [is] so high-tech now that you actually deliver a baby in a hospital bed. We’re talking about placenta and the whole nine yards!
Then, similarly, in a lot of our heavy machine operation programs, [there’s] a lot of simulation there and in our truck-driving programs. It actually is a more efficient model for learners.
We’re using virtual reality at our colleges, artificial intelligence. We can’t run from these emerging technologies. We’ve got to embrace them, and we’ve got to incorporate them not just into how we teach and how our students learn, but then what kinds of skills we’re giving our learners. Students today need to have not just digital literacy, they need to be digitally fluent in these technologies in their respective fields.
VB: Do you think that people in general are more aware of what is offered at community colleges?
Doré: I think that is going to be one of my primary goals, is to market our Virginia community colleges much better than we have. I think that we have a lot of work to do in terms of not only promoting our colleges, but really promoting all of these different fields that are high-demand and high-wage fields that you do not necessarily need a four-year degree to compete and to be successful in many, many of these career fields.
I think it’s important for us to really work very closely with our K-12 partners and with high school counselors, so that we really can ensure that students get on a pathway much earlier into some of these high-demand areas.
VB: Can you elaborate on that?
Doré: When I came to Virginia back in January, I was able to meet with Gov. Youngkin and with [state] Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera. One of the things that we discussed was this goal of having every high school student graduate from high school with a postsecondary credential.
I am very aligned with Gov. Youngkin, Secretary Guidera and Secretary of Labor [Bryan] Slater around these issues. I think that this is an achievable goal. We will need to deepen our partnerships with K-12 institutions across the commonwealth, but our colleges are ready and able to scale what we are doing to get students into a pipeline, to be career-ready when they graduate from high school.
Now, that is not to say that these students will not continue to pursue postsecondary [education], but … I think people are looking for the skills that can be applied in their lives sooner. When I went to college, I had a job that was really not related to my major to earn my way. Then I looked for a job when I got my degree.
More and more of our learners are actually employed full time, and they’re trying to get to a next level, and so they want to be able to use those skills right away. I think what we’re really doing much more is this notion of stackability — what we’re doing is really stacking credentials. They can be used earlier in their career, but then those credentials can be stacked to [become] an associate degree and ultimately … a bachelor’s degree.
VB: There are many sectors that need trained workers, from health care to education to wind energy. What can be achieved on this front in the next five or 10 years?
Doré: There are a number of sectors that we will be focusing on in the community college system. I’ll just give you some examples: IT and cyber. Obviously, we have an incredible skills gap in the health care sector.
Then we have a whole host of what we call the skilled trades: welding and machines, advanced manufacturing, mechatronics, public safety.
We really need to educate this new pipeline of talent. We’re going to have to scale certain programs at a much faster pace than we have over the last several years.
We are working collaboratively from a regional perspective to look at the pipeline that is needed for our various industry sectors — not just next year, but over the next five and 10 years. Then we need to, if you will, realign our entire system to make sure that we are really educating the pipeline to fill those necessary positions.
VB: Do you have enough educators?
Doré: No. We particularly do not have enough faculty in the high-demand sectors. If there’s a nursing shortage, then there’s obviously a nursing instructor shortage.
Attracting talent to our institutions is going to be another significant issue that I will need to address as the leader of this system. One of the things is that we have to be competitive to be able to attract the talent that we need to our system. That has to do with compensation. It is quite frankly challenging for us to attract faculty in these high-demand areas because industry has a shortage, and many of our faculty could make a lot more money working in industry.
We need to work very closely with business and industry to solve that problem. I see pockets of innovation in which our industry partners are in fact helping provide those faculty to our system.
VB: How do you appeal to prospective students who could choose a for-profit college over a community college?
Doré: Traditionally, if you look at the model for many for-profit institutions, they allocate a much higher percentage of their operating budget for marketing. They’re very, very well-invested in terms of marketing, and that’s something that, historically, public community colleges have not done. That is one area that I think it’s really important for us to look at is, how do we market the value proposition of our public community colleges?
VB: Youngkin signed a bill in May to create the Virginia Department of Workforce Development and Advancement, which consolidates a lot of different state workforce initiatives under one roof. How will that impact VCCS?
Doré: Some folks that are now here in this system office will be moving to this new agency, so yes, it does affect us somewhat. Now, with that said, I believe that we are going to be able to partner much more closely with the Commonwealth of Virginia to really streamline workforce programs. The Virginia community colleges are designated as the coordinator of postsecondary workforce education in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Ultimately, we will play a crucial role in helping to shape what that new agency looks like and ensuring that we’ve got greater efficiency across the commonwealth.
VB: What about military veterans and their family members? There’s a big effort to keep them here in Virginia so they can take some of these in-demand skilled jobs. How big a priority is that?
Doré: I want to make it very clear that all of our colleges are veteran- and military- friendly, and that we have veteran centers.
Now, what’s really important for veteran students is that we have a robust program called Credit for Prior Learning. This is really for those who are transitioning out of the military. They’ve spent a whole lot of time perfecting a field, and in many instances they may or may not then have the necessary industry credentials to be hired in various sectors.
In many instances, they may only need another semester to complete even a degree. That’s really important for me — that we honor the skills that these veterans are already bringing to our colleges, and [that we’re] giving them credit for those skills. It’s [also] important for our veterans to get their benefits for the G.I. Bill and all of those programs.
VB: What did your own educational path look like?
Doré: I come from the working class, and neither my mom nor my dad went to college. I’m a first-generation college student. I grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania. I’m one of five children.
To be honest with you, I did not want to go to college. I graduated from high school, and I really didn’t want to go to college. My parents were like, “No. You’re going to college.” I had an opportunity, the summer that I graduated from high school, [to spend] the summer in Mexico working at a hospice. It was run by Catholic nuns in Mérida, which is in Yucatán. I was 17 years old.
I’ll never forget the first day in there, the nun, she tells me to go in and give this guy a bath. I walk in to give this guy a bath who’s in the shower, no arms or legs. Well, fast-forward to the end of the summer, I grew up really fast. There was a young man there who had fallen off of a hut, broke his back, was paralyzed from the neck down. I was taking care of these people.
One of the things that hit me that summer was my parents wanted me to go to college. I didn’t really want to go to college. I just wanted to get a job, but I was like, “I have the opportunity to go to college, and these people that I had been serving in this hospice, they didn’t have any opportunity.”
It was a wake-up call for me. I got home and I went down to my local college, and I enrolled right away. College transformed my life. I did become a teacher out of college. I taught in Catholic high school
for two years.
VB: And you met Fred Rogers, late host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” during a class field trip to his TV studio in Pittsburgh?
Doré: At the lunch break, Fred Rogers spent an entire hour with me and my class. It was awesome! All my students were asking him all kinds of questions — everything. I remember I got to ask him the last question, and I said, “I’m a young new teacher. What advice do you have for me?”
I’ll never forget what he said. “David,” he said, “Remember that love is at the heart of all learning.” That has been my North Star throughout my entire career.