Harvest Higher Education Project Takes Shape

December 15, 2005

Bulletin Staff Writer

Area students with two years of college under their belts may be able to finish a four-year degree here starting in 2006, officials said Wednesday.

The New College of Virginia wants to offer the final two years of baccalaureate degrees through other higher educational institutions within two years and become either an independent school or a branch campus of another public college by 2012, according to a two-stage framework announced Wednesday.

The model, developed by New College officials with help from Virginia Tech, state officials and Gov. Mark Warner, must receive General Assembly approval. Robert H. Spilman Jr., chairman of the New College Planning Commission, said he "will be bitterly disappointed" if funds for the college are not included in a state budget proposal to be announced Friday.

Spilman said plans are for the college to open on July 1, 2006, as the New College Institute, but he indicated that it eventually could be renamed.

It would give third- and fourth-year students local access to baccalaureate degree-granting programs offered by colleges elsewhere in Virginia. The first round of degrees would be conferred in 2007, the framework shows.

"I am pleased with how quickly and capably the New College Institute plans have progressed,"

Gov.-elect Tim Kaine said in a release. "I am familiar with this framework, and I am very supportive of it."

Spilman said, though, that he is not yet sure to what degree Kaine will back it.

The institute initially would focus on educating students who have finished an associate degree program at area community colleges or two years of an undergraduate program at another institution, the framework shows.

"We think it's a heck of an opportunity" for students from the Martinsville-Henry County area to finish their education close to home "with two years under their belts," Spilman said.

Other colleges and universities first must affiliate with the institute, he said.

Leanna Blevins, vice president for student and community development for the New College, said plans call for the institute to hire its own faculty to teach most of its curricula, based on standards set by affiliated institutions. Instructors from affiliated schools also may come to the institute and teach, she said.

The curricula has not yet been determined. Officials said they will work with affiliated institutions to figure out what degree programs and courses should be taught. Virginia Tech already has agreed to help.

There are many other things to figure out, too, Spilman said, such as where the college will be located in Henry County or Martinsville and where students will be housed.

Local developer George Lester has offered the former Tultex Corp. plant, now known as Commonwealth Centre, to be the college's main campus. The building has not yet been officially accepted.

The framework calls for the institute to help develop a trained local work force and the technology necessary for new economic ventures in the city and county to flourish. In developing the work force, the institute will generate cooperative efforts between it and local businesses that will help "leverage the potential for job creation," Spilman said.

Planners also envision including an option of a fast-track degree program so students could earn a bachelor's degree in less than the nationwide average of 55 months.

During the second stage of its development, between 2007 and 2012, the institute would periodically report to the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) on how it is developing into an independent institution or a branch campus of another school, based on what is deemed appropriate by the institute's board of directors, the framework shows.

The board, which would replace the current planning commission, would have 12 to 15 members, all of whom would be appointed by the governor. The board would include presidents of three public colleges or their designees, Spilman said.

Until July 2012, the board also would be comprised of at least one private college president or designee, at least three residents of the region and no more than two nonresidents of Virginia. After that date, the only condition that still would apply is the limit on nonresidents, the framework indicates.

Both the General Assembly and SCHEV would have to approve the institute becoming either independent or a branch campus, Spilman said.

"We want to keep our eye on the prize of becoming a four-year institution," he said. But if the approval of lawmakers and SCHEV is not received during the first attempt around 2012, "we'll keep doing what we're doing until we demonstrate the wherewithal to become a four-year institution."

The planning commission announced Tuesday that it had named Dr. Barry M. Dorsey as its new executive director. Dorsey, 62, is president of the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College, a partnership of public and private institutions in southeastern Ohio.

Dorsey previously was a SCHEV administrator for 18 years. He will move to the Martinsville area in early January and earn an annual salary of $150,000, Spilman and Blevins said.

 Because of his SCHEV experience and living locally, Dorsey "will understand the realities of the local scene" and how to relate them in Richmond so that lawmakers will be convinced to fund the institute, Spilman said.

Yet just because Dorsey is the director of the planning commission does not necessarily mean he will become president of the institute, said Spilman.

"Other candidates will be considered as well, but I'd like to think that Dr. Dorsey would be invited" to apply if he is as good at his job as New College planners think he will be, the chairman added.

"The two-stage framework of New College Institute makes it uniquely structured to be of greatest and quickest benefit to its prospective students," Dorsey said.


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