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NCI program costs detailed

October 5, 2010

It costs the New College Institute (NCI) a lot of money to bring academic degree programs to Martinsville, according to its chief administrator.

Programs can cost in excess of $200,000 a year, said Executive Director Barry Dorsey.

In a sense, “we have to make it attractive” for universities to bring programs to NCI, he said, especially for public universities, which he described as “risk averse” — due to limited state funds and budget cuts in recent years, they do not want to take a chance on losing money on their programs.

NCI, which receives funding from the state and The Harvest Foundation, provides local access to advanced courses needed to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees conferred by universities statewide. Students pay the tuition and fees charged by those universities.

In 2012, the General Assembly is expected to decide whether NCI evolves into a stand-alone university or a branch campus of an existing university.

The institute currently offers 15 degree programs and eight certificate and educational licensing endorsement programs. It has more than 400 students, and 135 people so far have earned degrees through the institute.

This fiscal year, Dorsey said, NCI is paying universities other than Averett University between $64,000 and $223,000 to bring their programs to Martinsville. NCI does not pay Averett because Martinsville is only about 30 miles from Danville, where Averett is based, he said.

Because of the way the programs are developed for NCI, Dorsey could not provide itemized lists of the institute’s costs for academic programs.

He described them as “turn-key programs.” According to a definition found on the Internet, such a program is one that a developer (a university, in this case) sells to a buyer (NCI) in a ready-to-use condition.

Due to NCI’s small administrative staff, “it would be impossible” to analyze every line-item expense pertaining to contracts with universities, he said.

Based on negotiations with universities, though, Dorsey said things affecting the cost of a program include salaries of instructors who come to Martinsville to teach classes, their professional development and travel expenses, costs for program support staff who are based at the university and, to a lesser extent, costs for instructional materials.

The $223,000 program this year is the bachelor’s in accounting degree from Virginia Commonwealth University. Because it is a degree used in many business applications, it is in great demand by students, Dorsey said.

Therefore, people who are qualified to teach accounting courses are able to seek higher salaries, and the longer that an instructor has taught, the higher the salary he or she can command, said Dorsey.

He noted that in contracts with universities, NCI has a sliding scale included in which, as the number of students enrolled in a program increases and the university offering it gets more in tuition money, the institute’s cost for the program decreases.

NCI dropped two academic programs this fiscal year. Dorsey said NCI is able to drop programs when they no longer are cost effective, such as through a lack of student interest.

Fifth District U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello recently said he is seeking $1 million in federal funds to help develop a proposed NCI Center for Emerging Industries.

Dorsey said the funds would be used to develop and implement four new degree programs — entrepreneurship, technology integration, renewable energy and advanced manufacturing — to be offered at the center.

That equates to $250,000 per program.

Dorsey added he expects some of those programs to be costly because NCI would have to get a university to develop the programs for the institute because they are not currently being offered by a public university in Virginia.

NCI cannot develop degree programs on its own because it is not a university — at least not yet, he emphasized.

Altogether, NCI is spending about $1.1 million this year toward the degree, certificate and other programs offered at its campus uptown, Dorsey said.

“We could not offer what we’re offering without The Harvest Foundation” matching state funds provided to NCI, Dorsey said.

Harvest funds are the money mostly used toward the programs, he said.




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