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Va. Community College System Starts Web Site for Career Advice

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By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 2, 2009

High school graduates who just earned a diploma and mid-career professionals who just got laid off share a basic question: What should I do with my life?

Virginia's community college system launched a Web site this year to help students of any age find answers and map out the training they will need.

"We cut through the red tape," said Jeffrey Kraus, a college system spokesman. Without such help, students would need to consult college counselors, navigate a maze of financial research and do a fair amount of guesswork.

"This is the right tool at the right time," Kraus said, for a culture inundated with information and accustomed to shopping online.

At http://www.vawizard.org, an avatar named Ginny guides people through a career assessment, starting with a 72-question survey gauging interest in tasks as varied as "guarding money in an armored vehicle" or "making a map of the bottom of the ocean." The answers lead to a list of career possibilities. From there, people can learn about specific jobs within fields, employers in the area, pay rates and whether positions are in demand.

A high school student who loves horses can learn about a career as a veterinarian, for instance, or find out about alternatives, such as becoming a chiropractor or biology teacher, that draw on similar interests or skills. A laid-off bank teller can figure out how to morph into a financial analyst.

The site shows the degree or courses needed to make the switch. It calculates tuition costs, finds links to federal financial aid forms and supplies scholarship information.

Thanks to the economic downturn and the increasing cost of higher education at four-year universities, more people are turning to community colleges to update skills and get a fresh start. About 250,000 students are enrolled at 40 campuses across the state, including several affiliated with Northern Virginia Community College.

The enrollment amounts to two out of three college undergraduates in Virginia. Nearly half are older than 25.

Community college system Chancellor Glenn DuBois said he came up with the idea for the Web site while planning a vacation to Europe.

He sat down at the computer and logged on to Expedia.com, where he found plane tickets, a rental car and hotel reservations and booked them all. With a few clicks, he was ready to go.

"I thought it was so easy. . . . Why couldn't we do something like that for higher education?" he asked.

The site took two years to develop and was built with more than $2 million in federal funds. It will be updated regularly so that job information is current and local.

Eventually, DuBois said, he wants to expand the Web site, with pages for groups with specific needs, such as veterans, service members or foster children.

"Information is powerful," DuBois said. "The more good information you have, the better decision you are going to make."


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