All aboard the #CollegeExpress

By Kellie Crowe

A new free transportation option opens college access for students in Virginia.

Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC) announced a new transportation initiative that makes college attendance possible for up to 40 Bristol, Virginia, residents who do not have transportation from Bristol to the college’s campus in Abingdon.

“For far too long, the lack of transportation has prevented many Bristol, Virginia, residents from continuing their education beyond high school,” VHCC President Charlie White said at a press conference in August. “Today, transportation is no longer a barrier. If you live in Bristol, Virginia, we can get you to Virginia Highlands Community College — at no cost to you!”

The new #CollegeExpress is a Monday through Thursday public transit route that runs from Bristol, Virginia, to Virginia Highlands Community College at no cost to students.

“The #CollegeExpress will make several stops in Bristol and then deliver you to Virginia Highlands, bright and early and ready for 8 a.m. classes,” explained White. “Then, in the afternoon, that same bus will take you right back home to Bristol.”

Students boarding the #CollegeExpress need only to show their official VHCC college ID.

The #CollegeExpress is made possible thanks to $28,892 in grant funding from the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education (VFCCE). The grant was awarded in support of developing a creative project to address barriers to student success.

“This opportunity represents what I love about Bristol,” said Lisa Cofer, executive director of the United Way of Bristol TN/VA. “We’re a city that pulls together and we make things happen — and we move Bristol forward.”

Cofer was instrumental in bringing partners together, including Mountain Lynx, the primary transportation provider for the project. Mountain Lynx is providing transportation services at a reduced rate.

Other significant participants making the #CollegeExpress possible include Bristol Transit, which provided a waiver that allows Mountain Lynx to operate the #CollegeExpress route within the City of Bristol.

“For the students who get on this bus and head to Virginia Highlands Community College, it’s the difference between a minimum wage job and a lifelong career,” said City Manager Randall Eads. “Today, 65 percent of all jobs require education beyond high school. Those who take advantage of the #CollegeExpress will have the opportunity to use the skills and certifications they earn in college to secure a world-class job, right here in Bristol.”

Other entities working to advance this project include Bristol Virginia Public Schools, Bristol Department of Social Services, and the Bristol Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

The graduating class of 2019 had 18 students who applied to VHCC but were not going to be able to attend due to a lack of transportation, according to Jo Hutton, a VHCC career coach at Virginia High.

“Many of our students don’t even have a family car, much less a driver’s license,” said Hutton, who has been dreaming of this type of transit opportunity for more than two decades. “Today is a new day and our students can now ride the #CollegeExpress.”

Hutton was joined at the August press conference by 19-year-old TieShawna McDaniel, a Virginia High class of 2019 graduate who will be taking the new public transit route.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you’re looking at a future director of human resources,” Hutton said. “That’s TieShawna’s goal and I know she’s going to make it!”

This story originally appeared here.

Kellie Crowe

is coordinator of PR and marketing at Virginia Highlands Community College in Abingdon, Virginia.