Calculating the Value of Virginia's Community Colleges

Calculating the Value of Virginia’s Community Colleges

By Quentin R. Johnson, Ph.D.

Lightcast, a company that specializes in analyzing labor market information on behalf of education institutions, businesses, and communities, recently prepared a report titled “The Economic Value of the Virginia Community College System (VCCS).” It documented the ways community colleges impact the state economy, support businesses, benefit employees, and perhaps most importantly, dramatically improve the lives of students.

The study focused on fiscal year 2021–22. During that time, Virginia's community colleges employed 11,838 people, including full-time and part-time faculty and staff. Of this number, 452 people served Southside Virginia Community College right here in our local neighborhoods. The report went on to note, “Total payroll at VCCS was $620.9 million, much of which was spent in Virginia for groceries, mortgage and rent payments, dining out and other household expenses.” These activities contributed to regional and state economic vitality.

Although this represents a substantial boon, graduates from Virginia’s community colleges have a much greater impact. “As a result of their education from VCCS colleges, the students receive higher earnings and increase the productivity of the businesses that employ them.” In fact, the report revealed that during the year studied, “VCCS alumni generated $10.6 billion in added income for the Virginia economy, which is equivalent to supporting 118,515 jobs.” It went on to summarize, “This means that one out of every 41 jobs in Virginia is supported by the activities of VCCS and its students.”

The most dramatic finding, however, involved the benefits for students. During the year studied, here at SVCC, we served more than 4,400 students. They pursued a broad range of academic and industry-recognized credentials, including two-year associate degrees for transfer into four-year programs, associates degrees for entry into technical careers, and short-term workforce and certificate programs leading to immediate job opportunities in high-demand fields.

Each of these students made an investment in his or her future. They paid for tuition, books, and supplies. They gave up wages they could have earned while they were in class. Lightcast reported, “For every dollar students invest in VCCS in the form of out-of-pocket expenses and foregone time and money, they will receive a cumulative value of $5.70 in higher future earnings. Annually, the students’ investment in VCCS has an average annual internal rate of return of 20.2%.”

Virginia’s taxpayers also received a return on the Commonwealth’s investment in community college education. For every dollar invested, the state accrues a return of $2.70. This comes from several areas related to the increased employment opportunities and higher wages earned by graduates. They include savings on public expenditures related to healthcare, the justice system, and income assistance. In addition, employers who are able to increase their production and earnings as a result of a more appropriately trained workforce ultimately make higher tax payments on their boosted revenues.

The Lightcast report noted that Virginia’s community colleges are “one of the primary sources of higher education to Virginia residents and a leading supplier of trained workers to industries in Virginia, enhancing overall productivity in the Virginia workforce.” It concluded that community colleges “play a key role in helping students increase their employability and achieve their individual potential.”

To learn more about how community colleges can support your business by training future employees or how you can advance your career options through education, visit or

Dr. Quentin R. Johnson is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the City of Emporia. He can be reached via email at

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