If you drive a car, you have probably needed a jumpstart at least once in your life – the battery is low, and the “jump” gets the car going and on the road again. In 2020, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Northern Virginia Community College saw a need and decided to provide a similar jumpstart for high school seniors wishing to continue their education. Launched in response to the pandemic’s impact on educational opportunities, the Nova JumpStart program was first offered during the summer session of 2020.
With funding from the federal government through the CARES Act, 2,600 high school graduates were provided the opportunity to take two courses, tuition-free, through Northern Virginia Community College’s online learning platform. With the pandemic causing major changes and even cancellations of course offerings, the community college felt this to be a positive way to provide the opportunity for those most seriously impacted by the side effects of the pandemic.
The courses were offered virtually, thus not conflicting with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and commonsense pandemic guidelines and were well received by those who took advantage of the opportunity.
While not the original intent, the JumpStart program had a positive side effect of its own, as it provided a smooth transition for students to continued enrollment at Nova during the fall 2020 semester. Nationally, community college enrollment dropped approximately 10% this past academic year, while enrollment at Northern Virginia Community College grew by about 2%.
Maintaining enrollment at pre-pandemic levels allowed the college to continue to provide a variety of courses while offering students who enrolled the opportunity to continue their education seamlessly as the COVID-19 health crisis was addressed.
While the pandemic’s impact is starting to lessen, Nova decided the previous success of JumpStart warranted a second summer opportunity to continue the program, again for graduating high school students. As with the first year of the program, federal stimulus funds were tapped to make this possible.
Applicants were to come from jurisdictions within the community college’s service area and ones which currently offered a dual enrollment program with the college. Additionally, a 3.0 grade point average, which could be supplemented with math and English scores from national college readiness tests like the SAT and ACT, was required. The second round of JumpStart resulted in 1,025 students enrolling in college-level courses at Nova’s campuses throughout the service area.
The need for and success of the program is best captured by Anne Kress, president of Northern Virginia Community College, who said:
“Due to the pandemic, families faced unprecedented financial challenges, and students experienced disrupted senior years. Recognizing the needs of our community, Nova saw a chance to help. JumpStart worked: students stayed on track and reduced the cost of college. It’s an example of the innovative programs that grow out of Nova’s connection to our community, commitment to equity in opportunity, and focus on student success.”
The innovative aspects of JumpStart did not go unnoticed as many local papers and national education publications highlighted various aspects of this creative approach to providing continuing education services for graduating high school students. In addition, the program received the 2020 Education Innovation of the Year Award from the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce as well as accolades from numerous other organizations in the area.
The real winners of the college’s JumpStart initiative, though, were the students who were able to take advantage of the opportunity, continue their education in the face of the pandemic and provide themselves with the opportunity for an even better future for themselves and their families.
The writer is the former principal of T.C. Williams High School, now called Alexandria City High School, from 1984 to 2006. He currently serves as Alexandria’s representative to the Northern Virginia Community College Board.