Report doesn't daunt officials

January 13, 2005

Bulletin Staff Writer

Local officials are challenging the conclusions of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) report on a proposed university in Southside, and they promise to press forward with the proposal.

"I am concerned about SCHEV's interpretation of some cost and accreditation aspects of the New College program," said Harry Cerino, executive director of The Harvest Foundation, which has issued a $50 million challenge to the state to open a college in Martinsville-Henry County.

The report states that a Collaborate 2+2 Program proposed by Patrick Henry Community College, Longwood University and Old Dominion University would achieve accreditation immediately. The New College of Virginia's immediate accreditation is uncertain.

On a positive note, Cerino said he was pleased that SCHEV "recognizes the innovative nature of the New College of Virginia proposal."

Regardless, he added, The Harvest Foundation "remains firmly committed to the development and implementation of the New College model."

SCHEV did not fully endorse either the proposed New College of Virginia or the Collaborate 2+2 Program, although it said the collaborative program should be adopted if the General Assembly wants to move this year. It urged the completion of a needs assessment study and other steps first.

Dr. Ronald Carrier, who is directing local efforts to create the New College of Virginia, found reasons to be both positive and negative about the report. "We are driven by a sense of urgency to expand educational and economic opportunities for area residents. Any delay would be disappointing ... ."

At the same time, Carrier said he was "delighted" to read the report's positive assessment of the speed with which the NCV concept is developing.

Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville, was pointed in his criticism of the report.

Armstrong said the SCHEV report was "not helpful" to state and local efforts to create a Southside college, and he disagrees with SCHEV's conclusions.

"(SCHEV officials) say the creation of a college is no guarantee that it will bring economic revitalization," said Armstrong. "But doing nothing will guarantee we'll never have revitalization. Any developer you talk to will say a college is a tool for sparking growth."

State Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Ridgeway, said he was disappointed with the report but "I'm not going to let that disappointment stand in the way of getting this institution established in Martinsville."

Del. Danny Marshal, R-Danville, said the SCHEV report "is not what we wanted" and that he plans to meet with state Attorney General Jerry Kilgore to "try to get higher education in Southside."

Cerino declined to speculate on the impact of SCHEV's report on the General Assembly without further review and talking with The Harvest Foundation staff in Richmond.

Armstrong also was reticent about what effect the report will have on lawmakers. "It's too soon to tell how it will play in the General Assembly," he said, but cautioned against giving the report too much weight.

"It is just SCHEV's opinion," he said. "(SCHEV) does not have the power to deny or confirm a college.

"The reason it is before the General Assembly is because the governor has put money in the budget for the college," Armstrong added.

Nevertheless, he admitted, "It is a negative report for someone who may be looking for a reason not to fund (a college in Southside)."

Tim Murtaugh, spokesman for Kilgore, said on Wednesday that Kilgore supports SCHEV's conclusion to continue to study the project, although Kilgore recently wrote Warner urging the him to fund the New College of Virginia.

Kilgore believes the SCHEV report "raises important questions that should be pursued," Murtaugh said.

Kilgore, who is expected to be the Republican Party's nominee for governor, said the goal is to make sure higher education is accessible and affordable, Murtaugh added.


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