September 9, 2011
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
The more successes that the New College Institute (NCI) can show state officials, the better its chances of eventually becoming a university branch campus, according to the director of its major private funding partner.
NCI officials have said the institute has been more successful in its first five years than they ever imagined. They have mentioned, for example, that 244 people so far have earned degrees through the institute and more than 400 people have attended classes there.
But “we need some more time to demonstrate success” to state officials, said Allyson Rothrock, executive director of The Harvest Foundation, which matches state funding provided to the institute in uptown Martinsville.
Every success that can be noted is “going to make us stronger” when the General Assembly eventually is asked to approve the institute evolving into a university branch campus, Rothrock said.
Successes that should be demonstrated, she speculated, include showing there is a “pipeline of students” from the area and elsewhere interested in pursuing degrees through NCI, as well as securing more funding partners.
NCI provides local access to higher-level courses needed to earn certain bachelor’s and master’s degrees conferred by various Virginia universities. Students earning bachelor’s degrees must have taken their freshman- and sophomore-level classes somewhere else.
The institute announced Thursday that starting in the fall of 2012, it will partner with just three universities — Radford, Virginia Commonwealth and Virginia State — in offering degree programs in the future.
To attract students, Rothrock said, NCI must “work hard” with the Virginia Community College System, and not just Patrick Henry Community College.
More funding partners are needed, according to Rothrock, due to tough economic times that have prompted cuts in funds to state universities.
Potential funding partners could include companies and individuals, she said.
NCI also must continually work to strengthen its efforts to prepare students for 21st-century jobs to help the area attract businesses and industries that will create new jobs, Rothrock said.
In doing so, “we must show there is a strong connection between education and economic development,” she said.
Also, NCI must work to make the public, as well as lawmakers, aware of its existence and its successes, said Rothrock.
To do that, the institute must use its “cutting-edge technology,” such as videoconferencing equipment, to deliver instruction to other rural localities where higher education has been out of many people’s reach, she said.
“Ultimately, we must make sure everyone in Richmond (at the state capital) knows who we are and what we’re trying to do” to improve the educational levels of people statewide, and especially area residents, she added.
NCI’s mission has been to increase the number of Southside residents with college degrees. Studies have shown that only about 11 percent of adults in the region have degrees — the lowest percentage anywhere in the state.
Southside is the only region of Virginia where there is no public university, officials have said.
Rothrock made her remarks after being asked to comment on NCI’s plans to partner with the three universities.
A committee of which she was a member had been exploring the possibility of NCI evolving into a branch campus of one of those universities. That idea was placed on the back burner due to economic and timing factors.
“I do believe,” Rothrock said, that partnering with all three universities is “the very best next step” in NCI’s evolution.
Rothrock said becoming a university branch campus remains NCI’s ultimate goal, and perhaps it can be accomplished in two or three years.
Right now, the timing is just not right, she indicated.
At meetings this summer, NCI representatives realized that the universities understand the need to make higher education more accessible in Southside and “they really, really want to help us,” Rothrock said.
By partnering with all three, she added, NCI can draw upon their unique strengths in its efforts to improve local access to academic degrees.
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