April 19, 2011
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Southside’s economy is rebounding after taking “a disproportionate number of hits” in recent years as industries closed, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said Monday.
“We are making progress,” he said during the New College Institute’s (NCI) graduate recognition ceremony, held at Martinsville Middle School. The event recognized 109 students who either will earn degrees as of the end of spring semester or finished degree requirements earlier in the academic year.
As proof of his statement, Bolling noted that during the past 15 months, there have been 13 economic development announcements for Southside that will result in the creation of more than 1,700 jobs.
He said those figures reflect announcements in the Pittsylvania County-Danville area as well as the Henry County-Martinsville area.
Despite progress, “we still have a lot of work to do,” he said, to get enough jobs in the region for everybody who wants one.
Bolling is optimistic about the region’s future.
“I’m not just saying this,” he said. “I really do believe ... Southside is in as well of a position (as anywhere else in the state), if not moreso, to take advantage of a future economic resurgence.”
He mentioned factors such as the installation of broadband communications as helping make the region ready to attract companies.
Yet the main thing that companies want to know when they look at possible places to locate is not whether suitable land or buildings is available right away, nor how many incentives they would receive, but rather how educated and skilled the local work force is, according to Bolling.
“That is why NCI is so important,” he said, because it helps people obtain higher education in a region where few adults have college degrees.
Statistics indicate that less than 12 percent of Henry County-Martinsville adults have degrees — the lowest percentage of any area in Virginia.
Citing census statistics, Bolling said high school graduates today can expect to earn $1.2 million in their lifetimes. Yet those with bachelor’s degrees can expect to earn $2.1 million, and that amount goes up with master’s degrees and doctorates, he said.
NCI offers local access to higher-level courses needed to meet requirements for certain bachelor’s and master’s degrees bestowed by various universities across the state. Students graduate from the university granting a degree, but NCI still holds a ceremony each year to honor them.
Eric Penn, who is receiving a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Averett University through NCI, said students at the institute do not have to leave the community now to earn degrees.
Small class sizes help students at NCI get to know their instructors, which helps them learn more, Penn said.
Alexandra Cavero, who is receiving a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Virginia Commonwealth University, said students take each class with the same group of students while attending NCI. The bonds they form also help them learn, she indicated.
“I am thrilled to be graduating and starting a new chapter in my life,” said Cavero.
“I strongly recommend NCI” to prospective students, Penn added. “It is a fact that the New College turns dreams into reality.”
Bolling encouraged graduates to dream big and set high goals in life, as well as to work hard to achieve them and always strive to continue learning.
“Chart the future course of your life the way you want it to be,” and don’t leave life to chance, he said.
No matter what obstacles occur, “don’t ever give up, and don’t let anyone ever tell you there is anything you cannot accomplish,” he added.
As of the end of spring semester, 244 students will have earned degrees through NCI during the five years since the institute opened, said Executive Director Barry Dorsey.
“Isn’t that phenomenal?” he said.
Associate Director Leanna Blevins asked the graduates to encourage others to pursue higher education.
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