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Gerald L. Baliles Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative Award to fund full-time career and transition coaches.

VIrginia's Community Colleges and The Virginia Foundation of Community College Education

Richmond – Southwest Virginia Community College (Southwest) received the prominent Gerald L. Baliles Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative Award from the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education (VFCCE) to increase high school and college completion. The award was renamed to honor the legacy of Gerald L. Baliles, the 65th governor of Virginia, a native of rural Patrick County and a forward-thinking leader. Baliles worked to ensure that all Virginians had access to education and training.

The Gerald L. Baliles Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative (RVHI) Award aimed to reduce the number of rural residents without a high school diploma from 1 in 5 to 1 in 10, and to increase the number of rural residents with an associate’s degree, diploma, or certificate from 26% to 52%.

To date, RVHI has provided more than $10 million in direct and matching funding toward achieving these goals. Significant outcomes indicate that the population of the RVHI region aged 25 and over without a high school degree has decreased by 4.2% and those with at least an associate’s degree has increased by 4.0%.

The award will fund a full-time high school career coach in Russell County (Amanda Castle), and a full-time Transition Coach (Brandon Hensley) to assist all graduating high school students with the transition to Southwest. The Transition Coach will also do some work with CTE students. These coaches are part of a program that focuses on three specific cohorts of students – high school students in grades 9-12, seniors who were preparing to transition to college or the workforce, and non-traditional students entering the college environment.

“This award will allow us to continue our work to bridge students from high school to college with coaching services and also focus on career and technical students,” said Dyan Lester, Dean of Student Success at Southwest Virginia Community College.

There were 13 awards made by the VFCCE through a competitive application process. Recipients of the 2020 Gerald L. Baliles Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative Award:

  • Blue Ridge Community College
  • Dabney S. Lancaster Community College
  • Danville Community College
  • Eastern Shore Community College
  • Lord Fairfax Community College
  • Mountain Empire Community College
  • New River Community College
  • Patrick Henry Community College
  • Paul D. Camp Community College
  • Rappahannock Community College
  • Southside Virginia Community College
  • Southwest Virginia Community College
  • Virginia Highlands Community College

About Southwest Virginia Community College:

Offering more than 80 programs of study, Southwest Virginia Community College is a two-year institution of higher education that primarily serves the Counties of Buchanan, Dickenson, Russell, and Tazewell. In addition to credit based programs, the Southwest Virginia Community College Workforce and Continuing Education department offers fast-track training for individuals and customized training solutions for employers. For more information, please visit

About Virginias Community Colleges:

Created more than 40 years ago, the VCCS is comprised of 23 community colleges located on 40 campuses across the Commonwealth. Together, Virginia’s Community Colleges serve more than a quarter million credit students each year.
For more information, please visit

About The Virginia Foundation for Community College Education:

The mission of the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education is to build student success and the Commonwealth’s future by supporting its 23 community colleges through:

  • Workforce Development – Enabling students to build skills through scholarships and awards
  • Coaching – Supporting adult learners, foster youth, and the youth of rural and urban regions
  • Fellowships – Providing leadership development and community service opportunities
  • Access & Affordability – Assisting with accessibility and basic student needs
  • Accelerator Funds – Growing existing programs and developing new programs
  • Flexible Funds – Fueling innovation, incubation, and advocacy

For more information, please visit


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