December 15, 2004
By DEBBIE HALL
Bulletin Staff Writer
Gov. Mark Warner has included $1.5 million in his fiscal 2006 budget to plan a university in Southside.
The funding is "for the Secretary of Education to work with SCHEV (the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia), The Harvest Foundation and other entities to develop a coordinated plan to strengthen the options for higher education in Southside Virginia," Warner stated in a letter to area legislators and Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine.
"I am excited the governor is weighing in with funding for this," Kaine said during a pre-legislative breakfast Tuesday at Piedmont Arts Association, sponsored by the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce.
Kaine sponsored a resolution last year directing SCHEV to study the need for more capacity and possibly locating a university in Southside Virginia. The Harvest Foundation issued a $50 million challenge grant to the state to open a university in the area within two years, and it hired Dr. Ronald Carrier to design and implement what he has named the New College of Virginia.
Warner was asked for $1.5 million and $3 million in upcoming budgets to continue planning the college.
The inclusion of $1.5 million in Warner's budget is the governor's way of saying "it's a great idea," Kaine added Tuesday.
Kevin Hall of the governor's press office said the money will keep the momentum of the project going, and more funds can be added later if desired.
Although the funds are not tied to a specific site for a college, "the momentum on this site (Martinsville and Henry County) is really heavy now," Kaine said.
As he has traveled around the state in his campaign for governor, he said he has found approval of the university in other areas.
"I can't talk to people anywhere without them saying 'This is a great idea.' They get it. They understand we're all in this together," Kaine said.
So does the governor. "I believe the concept holds enormous promise and I am committed to advancing it," Warner wrote.
However, Warner's letter also cautioned that "in order to sustain the momentum that already exists for this project, I am hopeful that supporters of the Southside university can resolve a number of issues about the concept."
Among those are questions that Warner said were raised during a series of regional meetings concerning higher education.
"In each of those meetings, we discussed a variety of topics, including how to best address projected enrollment demand through the rest of the decade, what role our colleges and universities should assume in stimulating economic development in a region (and) how to provide access to higher education across the commonwealth," Warner's letter stated.
The proposed university in Southside Virginia figured prominently in some of these discussions, Warner wrote, adding that those meetings also made it clear that there "are still questions to be answered about The Harvest Foundation proposal for a new four-year college." SCHEV also has not fully evaluated the foundation's plan, Warner stated.
"In addition, there are questions as to how this new university would fit with existing higher education activities" at Longwood University in Farmville, the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center in South Boston, the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville and Patrick Henry Community College.
"Finally, there is not yet a consensus as to whether the new university should offer a traditional curriculum or a new approach," the letter stated.
Once details are ironed out, Kaine said he would support a push for additional funds. He did not know how much additional money may be freed to help promote the concept.
However, he said discussions by Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary on exploring private funding alternatives to reduce their reliance on state funds "is one of the big discussions right now." If that happened, it could free up money that might go to a university in Southside, Kaine said.
Kaine said he would not commit to the New College of Virginia proposed for Martinsville-Henry County "because SCHEV is the expert. I really wanted to leave the site open" for its recommendations.
Hall added "we're at a point where location (of a proposed university) is not paramount. Program is paramount."
SCHEV has been studying a possible Southside university and plans to report on it to legislators before the Jan. 12 start of the 2005 General Assembly.
The concept of an additional institution of higher education in the state was raised in a study by Sen. John Chichester, R-Fredricksburg, and others. It first was recommended in 1999.
An estimated 100 people attended Tuesday's breakfast, according to Kim Adkins, executive director of the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce. It was co-sponsored by American Electric Power (AEP) and the New College of Virginia.
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