Harvest College Project Funded by Commonwealth

December 18, 2005

Bulletin Staff Writer

Gov. Mark Warner will come to Martinsville on Monday to discuss the $4.5 million he has proposed for the New College Institute.

Warner will speak at 10:15 a.m. at the New College Planning Commission Office in the West Piedmont Business Development Center, 22 E. Church St.

The governor proposed appropriations of $2.1 million for the New College Institute in fiscal year 2007 (which begins July 1, 2006) and $2.4 million in fiscal year 2008 in the budget plan he unveiled Friday.

The money, said Rob Spilman, chairman of the New College Planning Commission, "gives us a shot at what we wanted. ... The governor will be here Monday. It's a great sign; it's been a positive week.

"Getting to this point hasn't been easy. There have been a lot of twists and turns and highs and lows, but the group stayed focused and appreciates all the support of The Harvest Foundation and efforts of the planning commission," he said.

He also commended the work of former Gov. Gerald Baliles, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), state Secretary of Education Peter Blake and Warner on the effort.

The budget must be approved by the General Assembly during the session which begins in January.

"We'll probably turn to the community again to be vocal and support the New College during the General Assembly session, talking to legislators and getting involved in keeping the money in the budget," said Leanne Blevins, vice president for student and community development for the New College.

Spilman added that "people in Richmond took notice" last year when area residents turned out in droves to support the New College at local meetings held by SCHEV.

Afterward, SCHEV recommended that the General Assembly hold off on creating a Southside institution of higher learning and instead study the idea further. Since then, however, its officials, including Executive Director Daniel LaVista, have visited the area and worked with college officials.

"The New College Planning Commission has been intensely working with folks at SCHEV during the past several months, answering questions they had and sharing ideas, responding to questions and proposals that SCHEV put up to the New College Planning Commission. It was a back and forth process," said Harry Cerino, executive director of The Harvest Foundation, which issued a $50 million challenge grant to the state in 2004 to open a baccalaureate degree-granting institution in Henry County or Martinsville.

Spilman added that SCHEV "didn't want to commit to the thing until they fully studied it."

With local officials' persistence on the issue, the support of the governor and secretary of education and the involvement of Virginia Tech, SCHEV "validated the need and they've seen the strong support" for the local college, he said.

Blevins said the planning commission's new executive director, Dr. Barry M. Dorsey, will address how the state funds would be used after he comes on board in mid-January. But she and Spilman both said they likely would be used primarily for development of the curriculum, administration and academic programs with other institutions of higher education. Also, some may be used to start recruiting students and faculty, Blevins said.

The governor's budget proposal states that the General Assembly intends for the New College Institute, the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville and the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center to coordinate their activities, both instructional and research, to best serve area residents, make effective use of resources and avoid duplication.

The three entities are to report on their joint efforts to the secretary of education and SCHEV by Oct. 1 of each year, the document states.

Spilman said Virginia Tech officials have ideas on how to coordinate those groups' activities. But, he said, the commitment to a local campus remains. "They are not mutually exclusive," he added.

Baliles noted that the two-stage process of creating the college, announced last week, "seems to have the ... approval of many," including higher education institutions, Warner, Gov.-elect Tim Kaine, SCHEV and Tech.

"With the money now announced in the governor's budget, I think we're at a level where we can continue to see the realization of the dream announced almost two years ago," he said.

He called the college's creation "the most time-consuming project I've been involved in since was I was governor" and commended planning commission members, especially Spilman, Elizabeth Haskell and Douglas Payne, as well as The Harvest Foundation "for its inspired commitment to advance the $50 million challenge."

Cerino said the foundation was "joyous" that Warner included the college funds in the budget. "It's a very strong start," he added.

He said all the foundation's challenge grant provisions, including appropriate funding as part of the Virginia system of higher education, would have to be met for the foundation to consider the challenge fulfilled.

"I think the way these things happen, it's an interactive process where the foundation proposes and the state responds, then the state proposes and the foundation responds," he said. "We're inventing something. We all want to work with the state ... on the planning process. That's what feels like is happening now."


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