City gives its view of area college

February 3, 2005

Bulletin Staff Writer

The important thing is that a state-supported college giving baccalaureate degrees is established in the Martinsville area, not how long it takes to earn those degrees, according to City Manager Dan Collins.

A model for the New College of Virginia developed by Dr. Ronald Carrier, former president and chancellor of James Madison University, would allow students to earn degrees in 28 months, not four years like most colleges.

But the college should at least be similar to a four-year college, such as by educating students who mostly live on campus, Collins said.

"We don't want something where you sit in a room and watch" courses on television or over the Internet, he said, alluding to long-distance learning proposals. Rather, "we want live instructors in a classroom setting with residential students."

A residential college would boost the local economy by "fostering the development of ancillary services that students expect," such as housing and restaurants, he added.

Martinsville City Council on Tuesday committed $1 million over a decade to help set up a state-supported college locally in the next two years.

A resolution to that effect specifically mentions a four-year college.

But the city is not hung up on that language. It supports "the equivalent of a four-year, degree-conferring college ... whatever is deemed appropriate by the legislature," Collins said.

Four years essentially was written into the resolution to separate Carrier's concept from a community college, he said ? something Martinsville and Henry County already have.

The city's financial backing likely will be a mix of cash and in-kind services, such as the installation of streets and water/sewer systems, officials said.

The Henry County Board of Supervisors has not discussed making a similar contribution, said Chairman Paula Burnette. She will have to gauge other supervisors' opinions on whether they should consider it, she said.

Martinsville made "a generous offer," especially since the city's resolution says the donation is for a college to be located in either the county or city, said Burnette, who represents the county's Iriswood District. "I don't think that should go unnoticed."

A decision for the county to help the state finance setting up a local college would be up to the board of supervisors, not county executives, said Deputy County Administrator Tim Hall.

Supervisors already have voiced support for a college, Burnette said.

"The important factor here," she said, "is that the entire community stay in tune with what's happening" and do whatever is necessary to show support for a college, even if it only involves making phone calls to lawmakers.

"Every additional commitment ... would make our case stronger," said Harry Cerino, director of The Harvest Foundation. It has issued a $50 million challenge grant to the state to open a college here by the end of this year.

"I'm very grateful ... the community's leadership recognizes the importance of a higher educational institution," Carrier said.

Collins called the city's commitment "a statement that we think it's worth spending scarce (financial) resources on."

"Hopefully, that will draw some attention" and the college will gain support among state lawmakers, he said.

That remains to be seen.

"I wish we had an idea that kind of thing (money) is a magic bullet" that will convince lawmakers, Burnette said.

"Certainly it's a powerful statement," said Carrier.

"I would hope the General Assembly recognizes leadership where it occurs in the state," Cerino said.

Cerino said he believes city officials may have "a new way of thinking" in regards to improving the local economy.

"City fathers are thinking they want to invest in people," educating them to do the "best jobs" with high salaries, not low-paying industrial jobs, he said.

"Martinsville is really starting to differentiate itself as a rural community in the South that is investing in education," said Cerino.

Collins and other city officials, including Mayor Joe Cobbe, plan to present the $1 million resolution to Gov. Mark Warner on Friday. Burnette, who left Wednesday night to go to Richmond on county business, said she plans to join them.


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