Baliles to advise NCV push

March 17, 2005

Bulletin Staff Writer

Former Gov. Gerald Baliles said Wednesday he will not be overseeing efforts to establish the New College of Virginia, even though he will be involved in them.

The Patrick County native has been appointed counselor and senior adviser to the New College Planning Commission, which will handle the second phase of development for a proposed state-supported university in the Martinsville-Henry County area.

During a brief visit to Martinsville, however, he said that he has no intention of replacing former James Madison University president Dr. Ronald Carrier as the New College's director. Carrier, who announced his resignation Tuesday, was the architect of the college initiative.

"I have other things on my crowded agenda," including a full-time job, said Baliles, a partner in the Richmond law firm of Hunton and Williams. Anyway, "this is a position for an educator."

Carrier was hired by The Harvest Foundation, which issued a $50 million challenge grant to get the college initiative going. Initially, the goal was to encourage the state to charter and fund a baccalaureate degree-granting college locally by January 2006. That date has been pushed back to July 2007.

Baliles praised Carrier, whom he has worked closely with since serving as governor and state attorney general. He said that The Harvest Foundation board's support for naming the institution Carrier College is worthy.

It would be "a tribute of respect and gratitude," Baliles said. Still, choosing the college's name will be state officials' responsibility, he said.

Carrier designed the college model; now it is up to the planning commission and the person hired to replace Carrier as director to develop a curriculum, hire professors and other college staff, work with state officials to bring the college to fruition and obtain credentials for the institution, said Baliles.

"Ron was the architect; they are the builders," he said.

The General Assembly has committed $1 million to do a needs assessment and find ways that other resources can be leveraged for the college, Baliles added. But further planning "must be done before the commonwealth signs off" on the proposed college and funds it, he said.

Carrier's model for the college is an accelerated degree program in which students can earn the equivalent of a four-year degree in 28 months. The ultimate goal, officials have indicated, is to help people who cannot afford traditional four-year colleges to receive higher education -- something beyond programs offered by two-year community colleges.

The state is taking the proposal seriously, Baliles said. When other colleges have been launched, it sometimes has taken many years for their concepts to develop to the stage already achieved by the New College, he said, mentioning that people from outside the area have been appointed planning commission members alongside local residents.

The college is to be "designed to help people in a hurry" earn a degree, such as those who cannot afford four years of college or intend to get married and/or start careers soon after high school, Baliles said.

Noting that officials from other states already have inquired about the New College concept, he believes it will work. After World War II, he said, many former soldiers worked hard to earn four-year degrees in three years or less.

Projections are that the New College will educate about 200 students at first, then grow to perhaps as many as 1,000 students, officials have said.

More than 300,000 students now attend Virginia colleges and universities, Baliles said. Based on that figure, he thinks it will be fairly easy to persuade 200 students to try the New College concept.

Local economic developers have predicted that the college will be a boon to the community by attracting new stores, restaurants and other businesses, especially ones that cater to students and their families.

Whether Martinsville becomes a so-called "college town" such as Charlottesville or Blacksburg -- where the economy largely is centered around their universities -- remains to be seen, though.

That can be gauged only after the college is established and its success is measured, Baliles said. But higher education institutions "can be economically transforming and socially profitable" for communities, he said.

Martinsville-Henry County traditionally has been "a 3-T economy" based mostly on textiles, tobacco and timber, said Baliles. People in such fields may not need a college education to do their jobs.

Yet the national economy is becoming more and more centered around jobs that require a higher level of education, in fields such as finance, economics and developing technology for manufacturing industries, he pointed out.

From a community perspective today, he said, "without an educated citizenry, you can't compete. If you can't compete, you can't grow" in a global economy.

Considering the numerous jobs that Martinsville and Henry County have lost in recent years, "I hate to think of the consequences" to the local economy if the New College is not established, Baliles said.


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