SCHEV urges more study on proposal for university

January 13, 2005

Gov. Mark Warner on Wednesday urged the General Assembly to approve initial funds for a college in Southside.

His appeal came several hours after a state council urged legislators to slow down and study the idea before taking any action.

In his State of the Commonwealth address marking the start of the 2005 General Assembly session, Warner urged legislators to support the $1.5 million he put in his budget proposal "to advance a plan to strengthen options for higher education in Southside."

His appeal is in contrast to a recommendation from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). In its report posted earlier Wednesday, it called for the General Assembly to hold off creating any new public institution of higher learning in Southside.

Instead, SCHEV recommended that the General Assembly and the governor immediately fund six actions as part of studying the issue further, "thus delaying possible implementation of the NCV (New College of Virginia) proposal by not more than an additional year."

The report also states that if legislators decide this year to create a new public, degree-granting institution in Southside, they should "adopt the proposal of Longwood University, Old Dominion and Patrick Henry Community College." That "Collaborate 2+2 Program" proposal calls for students to take the first two years of college at PHCC and the other two through ODU or Longwood. (See related story 6-A.)

Funding that plan "need not preclude future funding of NCV if an object needs assessment demonstrates there is adequate demand for this new and innovative approach to higher education," the report adds.

The projected annual budget for the NCV is $13.7 million. For the collaborative plan, it is $4.9 million.

The six actions SCHEV recommended for immediate funding are:

Conducting an objective needs assessment, with an accompanying broad survey of interest of all levels of high school students, to determine the most appropriate higher education model and types of programs needed and desired. Estimated cost is $50,000 to $100,000.

Developing a student and industry friendly Web site to gauge program demand among students and possibly businesses. Estimated cost is $50,000 to $100,000.

Delaying creation of any new institution until studies can be completed and all of Southside's providers of higher education can work together to support a single effort. The state secretary of education has expressed interest in leading that discussion.

Funding up to 100 localized "Super-TAG" awards for fall 2005 for Southside students. These $1,500-per-year awards would serve as a pilot program to determine the efficacy of providing additional TAG funds to students to attend the private colleges in Southside. The estimated cost is up to $150,000.

Encouraging The Harvest Foundation to fund, together with the state, K-12 support for college readiness such as tutoring, basic skills and GED attainment programs. Using a one-for-one match, this would begin to expand the base of potential students ready for a baccalaureate degree program. The state's cost would be up to $2.5 million.

Asking all institutions of higher education proposing to serve Southside to evaluate their current curriculum and develop curriculum based on the results of the objective needs assessment. The estimated cost is $100,000.

SCHEV began studying the proposed Southside university a year ago, at the direction of the General Assembly. It spent three days holding hearings in Martinsville, Danville and Richmond, and months reviewing the NCV and collaborate proposals, data about the region and options for postsecondary education in Southside.

Its report praised The Harvest Foundation for its $50 million challenge to the state to open a university here within two years; the work of Dr. Ronald Carrier to design and implement the New College of Virginia; and Longwood, ODU and PHCC for the collaborative program.

And while the report called the New College of Virginia an "exceedingly innovative proposal," it also called it an "untried conceptual model."

Virginia has not created a new four-year college that was not previously a branch of an existing university since the creation of Virginia State University in 1882, the report emphasized. Its practice of expanding schools or creating branches that ultimately became independent institutions "has worked admirably well for the state," it stated.

The report states that the collaboration proposal is more affordable, would have immediate accreditation and "is in the best tradition of how Virginia has built the institutions of its world-class system of higher education."

Among the report's conclusions are that no objective and thorough needs assessment of the region has been done to determine what programs and opportunities are most needed and desired and if there is sufficient demand to support a four-year program.

While it notes that there are higher education options available in Southside, they may not be appealing to some. For instance, some four-year private, nonprofit institutions in the region often are seen as too expensive compared to public colleges, which also offer more variety in programs and scheduling.

It stated that local private colleges have higher tuition but they also offer significant amounts of grant aid.

"For these reasons, and despite the efforts of private colleges like Averett and Ferrum to be affordable and accessible, it is arguable that a need for a four-year institution apparently exists, if only from the point of view of meeting consumer needs. However, this argument only will be resolved through the outcomes of an objective needs assessment," the report stated.

The report also states that neither the New College nor the collaboration proposal would guarantee an economic transformation in Southside, as officials and residents have hoped. It points to Wise County, home of the University of Virginia's College at Wise, whose unemployment and lost industries have not changed despite the presence of the college.

However, it notes that "apart from its innovative program, which may find significant appeal, the most notable attribute NCV brings to the region is 124 well-paying jobs and an annual payroll of some $10 million. This alone should stimulate some new growth in the region. The collaborate proposal provides about half the direct impact," the report states.

SCHEV cited 2000 Census numbers showing the percentages of working age adults without a high school diploma are high in Southside, up to 47 percent in some localities. It also noted that Southside's median family income is "quite low" and would need to increase in order for its residents to be able to pay for college.

" ... No matter what is done for Southside in terms of a new institution, unless something is done about affordability, then little will change," the report said.

SCHEV also stated that NCV's creation would not reduce anticipated increased enrollment demand on other Virginia colleges. Rather, NCV would create a new market of rural students. As a result, the $9 million of general fund appropriations that would be targeted to NCV would not be available to solving demand issues the state already faces.

"... A new institution in Southside might create new demand from students previously uninterested in existing opportunities, and thus there would then be an additional commitment of funds in place without actually having addressed the demand already projected, further exacerbating the enrollment problem," the report stated.

Until these issues and others are addressed, "it is recommended that the commonwealth move at a slower pace," the report added.


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