October 16, 2011
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Local and state leaders attribute the success of the New College Institute (NCI) mainly to one person — its executive director, Barry Dorsey.
Dorsey, who has led the institute since it opened in 2006, has announced his retirement effective Jan. 1.
Allyson Rothrock, executive director of The Harvest Foundation, said she considers Dorsey to essentially be “the creator of the New College.”
“He’s built it” during the past five years, said Rothrock, whose foundation matches state funding for NCI. Today, “we’re recognized at the state level, and people know who we are” due to his work.
Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Bassett, recalled that in 2006, classes started at NCI less than 60 days after the General Assembly approved legislation that established the institute.
That was a year before lawmakers anticipated NCI would be up and running, recalled Associate Director Leanna Blevins.
It was “nothing short of phenomenal,” said Armstrong, the House minority leader and a member of NCI’s board of directors.
Since then, 244 students have earned degrees at NCI and more than 400 people have attended classes there.
“I don’t think anybody could have moved NCI as far and as fast as Barry has,” Armstrong said.
Martinsville Mayor Kim Adkins agreed. She said that “when you think of the New College, you think of Barry Dorsey.”
Adkins recalled having lunch with Dorsey not long after he came to NCI.
“I knew right away that he was the right person to lead the New College,” she said, because he was knowledgeable about higher education issues, friendly and easily accessible to people throughout the community, not just business leaders.
Few chief executives of higher education institutions make themselves as available to the public as Dorsey has, she noted.
“He’s a nice guy,” Blevins said. “People want to be around him and spend time with him.”
Before coming to Martinsville, Dorsey spent 14 years as the president of a combination university and community college in Ohio and 18 years with the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), which makes higher education policy recommendations to lawmakers.
Having worked for SCHEV, Dorsey “knows what processes need to be put into place (for NCI) to become a university,” Adkins said.
Due to economic factors, the idea of NCI evolving into a university branch campus has been put on hold, although that remains a goal.
For now, NCI will continue providing local access to upper level courses needed to fulfill requirements for certain degrees from various universities statewide. Next fall, Radford, Virginia Commonwealth and Virginia State universities will partner to administer all degree programs there.
Dorsey was the right choice for NCI because, along with knowing a lot about Virginia colleges and universities and higher education issues, he knew a lot about the General Assembly and how to deal with lawmakers, according to former Gov. Gerald Baliles, who has known him since the 1970s.
“He was very innovative in building an educational program in a rural area of Ohio,” Baliles said, adding that Dorsey basically “rebuilt” the University of Rio Grande.
Baliles, who helped convince Dorsey to come to NCI, said he envisioned that Dorsey’s experience would prove “essential to creating enough of a presence” at the state level to convince Virginia lawmakers to establish the institute.
Creating a higher education institution basically from scratch is “a tall order,” he said.
Asked how much Dorsey is respected by state officials, Baliles responded that amid a tough economy in which many universities have seen reductions in state funds, NCI’s money has remained virtually untouched. He attributed that largely to Dorsey’s influence.
Baliles described Dorsey as being part educator and part entrepreneur in establishing the institute.
He added that Dorsey “understands human nature ... (people’s) strengths and weaknesses, and the foibles of human personalities.”
That ability, he said, has helped Dorsey communicate with a wide variety of people — from state officials who had to be convinced of the need to launch NCI to prospective students who had to be convinced of a need to earn college degrees to be able to get jobs with decent salaries.
A lot of area residents who never thought they would be able to pursue higher education now have college degrees, said Rothrock.
Dorsey was “the right guy at the right time” for NCI, Armstrong said.
He has been “a perfect match,” Adkins added, for the institute and its goal to increase the number of adults in Southside with college degrees.
When told of the local and state leaders’ praise of him, Dorsey said he was flattered but “I haven’t done anything exceptional or that any other college president would not have known how to do” under similar circumstances.
Maybe so, but “it would have been more difficult for anyone else” who did not have experience in dealing with both academics and government. Baliles speculated.
Dorsey instead credited the work of other NCI employees for its success.
Baliles agreed: “He’s been remarkably successful in building a good team” of administrators and staff.
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