June 2, 2011
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Three universities — Virginia Commonwealth, Virginia State and Radford — met Wednesday’s deadline for submitting proposals to turn the New College Institute (NCI) into a Martinsville branch campus.
The fourth university that considered the idea, George Mason, no longer is interested, according to VCU President Emeritus Eugene Trani, who is spearheading a team that will review the proposals.
Trani, who also is on NCI’s board, said he found out last week that George Mason was not going to submit a proposal. He said that based on talks with university officials, he got the impression that “the timing just wasn’t right” for them.
George Mason spokesman Daniel Walsch said the Fairfax County-based university decided not to submit a proposal due to “budget limitations.”
As the university is looking at possible expansions elsewhere in Northern Virginia, “we thought it might be prudent to hold off” on considering any expansion into Southside, he said.
Walsch said George Mason still supports efforts to turn NCI into a university branch campus. He said that at some point in the future, George Mason may be interested in talking with any university that acquires the institute about the possibility of offering some programs at the Martinsville campus.
Being able to consider three universities’ proposals satisfies Trani.
“We are excited that the prospect of building a campus in Martinsville has elicited such a strong response,” Trani said of review team members.
“In our discussions with university representatives,” he said, “we have seen sincere interest in what each of these prospective parent institutions could bring to Martinsville and Henry County.”
“We are delighted to have three proposals from three very fine universities,” he added, “and we are eager to move forward with the process this summer” of selecting one with which to affiliate NCI.
Funded by the state and The Harvest Foundation, NCI provides local access to higher-level courses needed to complete requirements for certain bachelor’s and master’s degrees conferred by universities statewide.
The institute opened in 2006 with a goal of increasing the number of adults with college degrees in Southside, the only region of the state that does not have a public university. Statistics at the time showed that only 11 percent of the region’s adults aged 25 and older had earned degrees — the lowest percentage of anywhere in Virginia.
A total of 244 students have earned degrees through NCI since then.
The proposal review team consists of board and staff members from NCI, the New College Foundation and Harvest. Trani said the team’s choice of a university will be based on which of the three suitors “offers the greatest benefits for the community” in terms of ideas for academics, community outreach and economic development.
The universities’ proposals will not be released publicly, at least not immediately, because they are considered contract negotiations, Trani said.
While the review team anticipates selecting a university by the end of this summer, he said “it would be premature to designate a deadline” right now.
In the months ahead, sufficient time is needed to review proposals, develop a contract and get it approved by both the NCI and Harvest boards, he said.
The General Assembly also must approve NCI being folded into a university. Key lawmakers and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia will be kept abreast of developments in hopes that the issue can be considered as part of next year’s legislative session, Trani said.
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