April 26, 2011By Michael Buettner (Staff Writer)
ETTRICK - Virginia State University is making a bid to open a branch campus in Martinsville, where officials are wooing four state colleges to back a program that eventually could become a four-year institution of higher learning.
Representatives of Martinsville's New College Institute toured VSU on Monday and heard presentations from the university as well as local government officials supporting the university's proposal to partner with the institute.
Created in 2006 by an act of the General Assembly, the New College Institute offers two-year undergraduate degree-completion programs and master's degrees through partnerships with nearly a dozen Virginia colleges and universities. The institute is funded in part by the state and in part by the Martinsville-based Harvest Foundation of the Piedmont.
The idea behind the institute's creation was "to re-energize our economy and raise the educational level of our people," said E. Larry Ryder, chairman of the Harvest Foundation.
While visiting VSU on Monday, Ryder noted, "There are a lot of things in this area that are very similar to our area as far as demographics are concerned. That could make for a good fit."Like the Tri-Cities, the Martinsville-Henry County area has been hit hard in recent decades by a decline in American manufacturing, with the offshoring of textile and furniture manufacturing hitting the region especially hard.
Like Petersburg, Martinsville has struggled with a double-digit unemployment rate for the past several years, and officials there believe additional educational opportunities are essential to help attract new employers and provide well-qualified workers.
Under New College Institute's current programs, students must attend another school for the first two years of college. They can then transfer to NCI to complete bachelor's degrees through the partner colleges. Current offerings include accounting, criminal justice, business administration, information technology and other disciplines.
NCI also offers, through four of its partners, master's degrees in business administration, counseling, education and social work.
What the institute is looking for now is a single higher-education partner that would work with it to offer undergraduate degree-completion programs and master's programs in an expanded menu of subjects. Eventually, some NCI supporters believe, the institute should expand to become a full four-year college.
Besides Virginia State, NCI and Harvest Foundation officials have heard presentations from Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University and Radford University. VCU and Radford currently are partners with NCI; VCU offers bachelor's degree programs in accounting, criminal justice and homeland security/emergency preparedness there, while Radford provides NCI's information technology bachelor's program.
Ryder noted that Virginia State officials had visited the Martinsville area last month and met with NCI officers and supporters. He said the universities' proposals are due on June 1, and "we certainly hope to get one from Virginia State."
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