VBHEC Announces Former Speaker Kirk Cox Will Serve As Next President

May 31, 2022

Kirk Cox Headshot
M. Kirkland (“Kirk”) Cox, former speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates

RICHMOND – Dennis H. Treacy, chair of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council, announced today that M. Kirkland (“Kirk”) Cox, a career educator and former speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, will become the next president of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council. The appointment will take effect on July 1, 2022, following the retirement of Dr. Donald J. Finley, who has served as VBHEC’s president since its founding. 

In addition to Treacy’s announcement, Dr. Makola M. Abdullah, chair of the Council of Presidents for Virginia’s public higher education institutions, and former Speaker Cox issued comments. All three statements follow:

Statement of Dennis H. Treacy, chairman, on behalf of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council’s 34 board members:

“We are pleased today to announce former Speaker Kirk Cox’s appointment as VBHEC’s next president, commencing upon the July 1 retirement of Dr. Donald J. Finley after 25 years of service.

As president of VBHEC since its founding, Don Finley has served with extraordinary dedication, foresight, energy, and grace. His work has improved the lives of all Virginians who serve in or benefit from our top-ranked public higher education system. We are deeply grateful for his service and look forward to honoring him at our next board meeting on July 18, 2022.

As VBHEC’s new president, former Speaker Kirk Cox is uniquely suited to continue and build on the progress achieved through our “Growth4VA” program emphasizing talent development and college affordability in the Commonwealth.  He served with distinction in the Virginia General Assembly for 32 years, including two years as speaker of the House of Delegates. Throughout his legislative career he was a public school teacher regarded highly by students and professional colleagues alike. 

As a legislative leader, Speaker Cox made it his priority to strengthen Virginia’s higher education system, emphasizing the talent and affordability priorities that have been VBHEC’s focus.

He chaired the Higher Education Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, partnered with the late Thomas F. Farrell II in leading Governor McDonnell’s bipartisan higher education commission, and was chief patron of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (‘Top Jobs Act’ or ‘TJ21’), which passed the General Assembly unanimously in 2011. That landmark legislation provided the blueprint for a decade of renewed higher education investment designed to make Virginia the best educated state and to align the increased degree and credential production with workforce needs.

Working across the partisan aisle and with leaders in both legislative chambers, Kirk Cox also supported investments and legislation to enhance college affordability by helping institutions hold down tuition, limiting student fees, and providing workforce credential grants and other forms of student financial assistance.  

Throughout his legislative career, Delegate Cox focused on higher education’s pivotal role in Virginia’s business growth and economic competitiveness. He was the chief patron of legislation creating the GO Virginia program, which fosters collaboration between business, education, and government in each region. As Speaker, he chose to chief-patron only one bill: the 2019 higher education legislation that established the Innovative Internship Program and encouraged more business-higher education partnerships through performance agreements with the Commonwealth. 

Kirk Cox’s deep experience at the intersection of business, education, and government will be especially valuable as VBHEC continues to promote our Growth4VA agenda, which calls for affordable talent pathways that lead to Virginia-based jobs, internship opportunities for all students, performance-based investments, and more strategic partnerships throughout our higher education system.

We in the VBHEC are grateful for the progress already made on our Growth4VA agenda and are confident that it will continue to attract broad, bipartisan support.

One reason for this confidence is the ongoing work on the state budget. We are exceedingly grateful to the bipartisan, bicameral leadership of the General Assembly and to Governors Youngkin and Northam for the strong higher education budget they have developed. We look forward to working with our state leaders to realize the full potential of these key investments.

Another reason for our confidence is the support of our coalition and partners. As Kirk Cox begins his work as VBHEC’s president, he will lead a team that includes the many accomplished and public-spirited business leaders on our board, an innovative and united Council of Presidents led by Presidents Makolah Abdullah and Timothy Sands, highly capable and committed partners at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) and in other government, education, and business organizations, our Growth4VA professional team led by recent former Virginia education secretaries Laura Novey and Fran Bradford, and the thousands of active citizens who comprise our grassroots coalition. 

Finally, our confidence is grounded in the belief that this is good and important work. VBHEC exists to create expanding opportunity for all Virginians through a nationally leading higher education system that is an economic driver and differentiator for our Commonwealth.  As we thank Don Finley for his unparalleled service and welcome aboard Kirk Cox as our new president, everyone can be confident that this good and important work will continue and expand in the years ahead, lifting up all Virginians.”

Statement of Dr. Makola M. Abdullah, president of Virginia State University, chair of the Council of Presidents for Virginia’s public higher education institutions, and member of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council’s board of directors:

“My colleagues in the Council of Presidents and I applaud the selection of Kirk Cox as the Virginia Business Higher Education Council’s next president. 

Former Speaker Cox has dedicated his life to teaching and public service. His personal leadership on major legislative and budget actions for well over a decade shows his deep commitment to higher education and to preparing all of Virginia’s young people for excellent job opportunities and fulfilling lives. His bipartisan approach to those legislative initiatives and his close collaboration with business and education leaders demonstrate that he can bring people together and forge diverse partnerships to develop our Commonwealth’s talent and provide affordable access to all.

On a personal note, I have long appreciated the dedication, positive spirit, and collaborative approach that Kirk Cox brings to the educational mission.  He was the delegate representing Virginia State University for a number of years, and I worked closely with him to bring additional resources to our campus and keep college affordable for our students. I am grateful for his willingness to continue to serve the Commonwealth and the cause of higher education in this new role, and I very much look forward to working with him.

VBHEC is one of the nation’s leading business-higher education partnerships. We deeply appreciate the central role our outgoing president, Dr. Donald J. Finley, has played in building this partnership over the last two and a half decades. He has been an unwavering advocate for higher education and an indispensable partner to many of us. His work has provided a solid foundation on which VBHEC’s board, our new president, and our many partners and supporters throughout Virginia will continue to build.”

Statement of former Speaker M. Kirkland (“Kirk”) Cox regarding today’s announcement:

“I am very grateful for the confidence placed in me by the business and education leaders who comprise the Virginia Business Higher Education Council. I especially want to thank Chairman Treacy and President Abdullah for their generous comments.

The bipartisan support for VBHEC and its Growth4VA agenda reflects a strong consensus that talent development is the key to our Commonwealth’s future. We open opportunities for all young Virginians to fulfill their potential when we create affordable talent pathways that help them move efficiently from learning to earning, making early connections with Virginia employers through internships and other work-based learning experiences. 

It was a privilege for me to advance this talent development strategy as a legislator, and I look forward to working in partnership with business and education leaders and government officials in both parties to advance the Growth4VA agenda as VBHEC’s president.”


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Growth4VA is a campaign of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council