Waynesboro, BRCC to open distance learning center


WAYNESBORO — The city of Waynesboro is partnering with Blue Ridge Community College to open a distance learning center that would allow area residents to take online Blue Ridge courses at a facility in the center of the city.

Blue Ridge President John Downey said the community college has targeted Jan. 1 of next year as the date to open a facility. The center would be staffed by Blue Ridge and have computers for both the taking of online classes and registering for them. Downey said a title for the new facility is BRCC Online Outpost.

The startup money for the center came in the form of a $100,000 Virginia state budget amendment offered by Del. Dickie Bell, R-Staunton. Bell's district includes Waynesboro.

All involved are excited about Waynesboro having a needed higher education presence.

"Waynesboro is one of the only cities in Virginia without a center of higher learning," said Waynesboro Vice Mayor Terry Short. "We are very fortunate and very thankful to establish this partnership with Blue Ridge."

Short said the online curriculum at Blue Ridge can serve working adults in the Waynesboro area when their schedule allows it. Presently, he said adults must commute to Weyers Cave. Short said the new center could also offer dual enrollment opportunities for local high school juniors and seniors.

He said the city council and Waynesboro School Board are "laser-focused" on improving educational attainment in Waynesboro. Waynesboro is a city that lags behind both the state average and Staunton in the percentage of college graduates.

And Short believes the new distance learning center can be a regional hub, allowing nearby residents of Augusta County in communities such as Fishersville to take classes.

Downey said the facility can help area residents who lack of broadband access in areas close to Waynesboro.

"What we are trying to do is provide access to that population that is having difficulty with high speed internet, " Downey said.

The Blue Ridge president echoed some of what Short said about the access of higher education for Waynesboro residents.

"We want to take the underemployed, undereducated population and get them high wage jobs," he said.

Bell, a retired educator, said a lot of employers are retraining employees. He said the budget amendment of $100,000 "in terms of the overall budget, is a small amount of money to do something beneficial for the citizens and employers."

Short said Waynesboro aims to build the best labor market available for employers.

'We want a strong labor market that is attractive to business and companies ... building a strong labor market is critical. There is always room for improvement," he said.

Downey and Short said one of the next steps is finding a building for the distance learning center.

"We want to find a location that is in close proximity to the downtown and the high school," Short said.