October 28, 2004
By DOUGLAS HAIRSTON
Bulletin Staff Writer
A standing-room-only crowd of about 250 people attended a state hearing Wednesday on the idea of creating a college or university in this area.
Most came to listen. Out of the audience, 24 government officials, civic leaders, educators and community residents marched to the podium in a hall at Patrick Henry Community College to express support for the proposed New College of Virginia. One person spoke against the idea.
Many, like local insurance company owner Chip Wyatt, talked about the advantages to the community of the proposed baccalaureate-granting institution being advanced by The Harvest Foundation.
Others, like Bill Manning, Martinsville School Board member and retired DuPont chemist, told personal experiences of being first-generation college graduates because there were economical four-year institutions in their communities.
The meeting was the second input session held by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). On Tuesday, the first session was held in Danville; today, SCHEV will hold the third meeting in Richmond.
SCHEV then will take the information from the meetings, along with other research, and prepare a report and recommendations for the General Assembly, said Dan LaVista, SCHEV's executive director.
State Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Ridgeway, and Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville, were among the government officials who spoke in favor of the New College of Virginia proposed by Dr. Ronald Carrier, former president of James Madison University, and his staff.
Others included Martinsville Mayor Joe Cobbe and Vice Mayor Kimble Reynolds, as well as Manning; Henry County Supervisor Paula Burnette and school board chairman Curtis Millner.
In addition to speaking of their support for the plan, these officials all noted the resolutions passed by their organizations in support of the college.
Sen. Reynolds also spoke at Tuesday's meeting in Danville, where he pointed out the potential benefits of The New College of Virginia and its 28-month bachelor's degree program for Trade Act students. On Wednesday, he compared the proposal for New College of Virginia with that offered by Longwood and Old Dominion universities and PHCC. (See related story.
The senator extolled the value of PHCC's proposal to expand its curriculum in collaboration with Longwood and ODU. He added that the community college, with its role in work force development, "is absolutely vital to the viability of the community."
However, Sen. Reynolds said that supporting the proposals of PHCC and The Harvest Foundation should not be "mutually exclusive." PHCC and the proposed New College of Virginia serve different needs and both deserve support, he said.
Addressing some of the students likely to benefit from The New College of Virginia, Kimble Reynolds shared the story of a youth named James. James was a student with whom Reynolds worked in a leadership program for high school and middle school students.
"James, like many other students, was intelligent and had the potential to do well in school, but lacked the exposure and support to fully utilize that potential," Reynolds said. "His mother worked in a factory and his view of the world did not extend much beyond Martinsville and Henry County."
Reynolds said if James had been reached earlier with a message that college was accessible and affordable, it may have radically changed his life.
According to the proposal for the New College of Virginia, Reynolds said, "knowledge managers" ? advisers and mentors designed to work closely with students throughout their 28-month college career ? not only will serve its students but also reach into high schools and middle schools to identify and encourage students such as James.
A number of high school students attended Wednesday's meeting, including some who rode a Henry County School System bus.
Among the young people making their cases for the college were Caroline Cain, Kenzie Rake, Emily Beard and Brenda Landau, a self-described non-traditional college student.
With an unpretentious explanation that drew applause from the audience, Emily Beard said, "I love my family and I want to go to a four-year college. With the New College of Virginia, I won't have to choose between the two."
Returning to the theme of economic development which was woven through the presentations of many speakers, Armstrong said that as a rule of thumb, three elements are ideal for growing the economy ? an airport, an interstate highway and a four-year university. With The Harvest Foundation proposal, the area's best chance is landing a four-year college, he added.
Local businessmen and women who spoke in support of the proposed college included Doug Payne, vice president of Stanley Furniture and a Harvest Foundation board member; Barbara Jackman, formerly chief operating officer of Memorial Hospital in Martinsville; and Irma Smart, former owner of Smart Machine Technology in Ridgeway
Payne drew on statistics to make his case for the college.
An economist for the National Center on Education and the Economy, a Washington, D.C., research group, estimated that by 2020 the U.S. will need 14 million more college-trained workers than it is projected to produce, Payne said.
He said that for every 100 ninth graders across the nation, only 68 will graduate from high school, 38 will attend college and 18 will earn a college degree. Local figures are likely to be even more dismal, he added.
To meet the challenge of turning out a more educated work force, Payne said, "I believe Dr. Carrier and his team have developed a (college) model that is faster, less expensive and more applicable to today's economy and technological needs."
Some of the educators expressing their opinions to SCHEV were Simon Owen-Williams, headmaster of Carlisle School; Colin Ferguson, retired Carlisle headmaster; Nolan Browning, PHCC vice president; and Susan Aaron, former Pittsylvania School teacher.
Owen-Williams, a native of Wales, drew laughter from the audience when he said in an British accent, "My perspective (on The New College of Virginia) is different since it's obvious I'm not from Southside."
He went on to say that the college's "synergy" that would spill over into high schools and middle schools would lift the educational bar and create an environment in which students and teachers could learn from the cutting-edge technology projected for the college.
Despite the overwhelming support for the New College of Virginia, one person came out in opposition to the school.
Longwood University Vice President Wayne McWee reiterated the reasons for preferring a collaborative model outlined by Longwood President Patricia Cormier at SCHEV's meeting on Tuesday. It would be more efficient and cost effective to implement the proposal put forward by Longwood, ODU and PHCC in which students would enroll their first two years at the community college and final two at Longwood or ODU, he said.
At the end of Wednesday's session, Dan LaVista, executive director of SCHEV, called the meeting "wonderfully instructive."
"We enjoyed the exchanges," he said, and encouraged residents to write or e-mail SCHEV with additional comments.
SCHEV board member James Dyke added, "there has been a lot of discussion about this proposal or that proposal, but I'm one council member who is going to focus on what we think is best for the region."
Reflecting on the meeting in Danville and PHCC, Harry Cerino, executive director of The Harvest Foundation, concluded, "I have no idea of what recommendations may be made by SCHEV or how the General Assembly or the governor's office will view the (New College of Virginia) proposal, but I was deeply moved by the (residents') turnout and the things that folks said."
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