March 10, 2004
By DOUGLAS HAIRSTON
Bulletin Staff Writer
A resolution to study the creation of a four-year college in south central Virginia cleared the General Assembly on Tuesday.
The House version of a joint resolution charging the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) with studying the establishment of a university in Southside won unanimous approval in the Senate on Tuesday, according to a release issued by the office of Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, who was a driving force behind the legislation. The Senate version of the resolution was approved Tuesday in the House by an 86-12 vote, the release added.
"Today's vote is a vital step in the effort to create a long overdue four-year research university," Kaine stated. "Such an institution would provide families in that community with enhanced access to higher education and create a powerful economic engine for the entire region."
Harry Cerino, executive director of The Harvest Foundation, which put up a $50 million challenge grant for the state to establish the college in Martinsville or Henry County by 2006, called the resolution's passage "great news. That was just what we were hoping for."
"It was a bipartisan effort that got it over the hump," he added.
Kaine agreed. "I commend the hard work and bipartisan cooperation that Southside lawmakers -- including Sens. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Ridgeway, and Charles Hawkins, R-Chatham; and Dels. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville, Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, and Danny Marshall, R-Danville -- put into making this legislation a success," he stated.
Just as The Harvest Foundation looked to give the resolution a jump start with a $50 million challenge grant, it also looks to give SCHEV a jump start by composing its own independent study of a university for the region.
The foundation board agreed last month to fund a $220,000 study of the proposal by two groups that would submit the results to SCHEV to use in considering the university.
"We hope to have the results of the study in the hands of SCHEV within the next two or three months -- by the time SCHEV is ready to start its own study," said Cerino.
The foundation has assembled a group of four education specialists to do the study, he said, adding that the group's report then will be turned over to another group of five or six college presidents for additional input before the final report goes to SCHEV.
The groups plan to take a comprehensive look at establishing a college in Southside.
They will consider such things as whether the state and the community would be better served with a four-year stand-alone college, a four-year affiliate college, a two-year higher education college working in conjunction with a community college, a college with some type of partnership with a research or higher learning institution in Danville or some other format.
The group also will consider the demographics and enrollment expectations for state high school graduates and the size of a Southside university, as well as its startup cost and tuition, said Cerino.
The group also will study the likely character of the school -- what would distinguish it from other state colleges and universities as well as the extent of the integration and study of technology.
While Cerino and the foundation are working to give the idea of a regional university impetus and momentum, Kaine is working towards the same.
"I look forward to working with (Southside legislators), the State Council of Higher Education For Virginia, local institutions of higher learning and local private sector partners as the process of creating this university moves forward," he stated.
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