New College proposal is backed by foundation

November 28, 2004

By Harry Cerino

     The past few months have witnessed a tremendous amount of activity for the Foundation and the community with the unfolding plans for the New College of Virginia, under the direction of Dr. Ronald E. Carrier. Today, the idea of a New College is increasingly becoming an important idea in the vision to improve the lives of residents in this community. More and more, it is being seen as a potentially transformational enterprise for a community that seeks a ?break out? strategy. For that reason it may be helpful to review the brief history that has led to the New College proposal and why The Harvest Foundation remains firm in its commitment to the project.

    The Harvest Foundation was created for the benefit of the Martinsville region through the proceeds from the sale in 2002 of the Martinsville Memorial Hospital. As a way to boost the area, the Foundation has chosen to invest in programs and initiatives that address local challenges in health, education and welfare.

     When bipartisan support from Sen. Charles R. Hawkins and Lieutenant Gov. Timothy M. Kaine arose for an institution of higher education in Southern Virginia in January 2004, and when the General Assembly then passed legislation calling for a feasibility study to establish such an institution, Harvest saw a rare opportunity in that confluence of interests. As a result, the Foundation offered a $50 million challenge to the Commonwealth toward locating a new college in the Martinsville area, if it became a part of the state?s network of colleges and was funded in proportion with existing institutions.

     The Foundation then commissioned a group of experts in higher education to determine how a school might apply to our community. Comprising that distinguished group were Dr. Gordon Davies, former long-time director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, and several former college presidents, including Dr. Carrier, president emeritus of James Madison University.

     In May 2004, this group released its ?Pre-Planning Report,? which concluded that the cloudy fiscal climate in Virginia at that time, among other considerations, made it unlikely that the Commonwealth would financially support a traditional baccalaureate school in Martinsville. The report, however, went on to conclude that the area could benefit from an institution of higher education, particularly one that reached out to an underserved rural population. It encouraged The Harvest Foundation to seek alternative educational models.

     As a result of that assessment, Dr. Carrier was hired as an advocate and reated a team who responded with a non-traditional model for higher education, with an emphasis on ?practice-oriented education.?

     Dr. Richard Freeland, president of Northeastern University, in an article in the October issue of The Atlantic Monthly, advocates for a ?third way? in higher education ? by combining the best of pure liberal arts and basic technical instruction ? precisely what the New College model proposes. Moreover, Freeland also endorses student community service programs and internships. Again, exactly what the New College plan entails.

     Accordingly, Martinsville now finds itself perched at the cutting edge in higher education. Unlike any other proposals now before us, the New College model is an ambitious plan that has the potential of transforming this community through an academic program that is tied to long-range economic development and community outreach, and partnerships with other institutions in this area ? most importantly our elementary, secondary schools and Patrick Henry Community College, where The Harvest Foundation is already investing millions of dollars.

     Other higher educational models have been proposed recently ? both formally and informally ? in part, no doubt, attracted by the magnitude of the Harvest challenge. As meritorious some of these approaches may be they should be seen for what they are ? stock engines, comprised of pre-existing parts, retrofitted to Martinsville. However, these alternatives should not be seen as just one choice over another. The way The Harvest Foundation sees it, there is room and need in this community for a range of options in higher education.

     Nevertheless, The Harvest Foundation by the continuing unanimous consent of its Board of Directors has chosen to back Dr. Carrier?s New College of Virginia model for the basis of its $50 million challenge.


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