January 14, 2005
The Roanoke Times
By Mike Allen
The State Council of Higher Education in Virginia has recommended delaying the creation of a four-year college in Southside until more study can be done to determine if one is really needed.
Supporters of a proposal to build the college in the Henry County/Martinsville area responded to the report, which was released Wednesday, by venting their disappointment.
"That's not what I was expecting to see based on what I heard from commission members and the staff not long ago," said Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, who previously said he was confident SCHEV would support creating a Southside college.
The report recommends that the state earmark about $3 million to study the possibility and to create programs to increase the number of potential college students in the region. The report says that up to 47 percent of adults in some localities within the region don't have high school diplomas.
Kaine was pleased with the proposal to increase funding, but overall called the report "a little lukewarm" and even short-sighted. "I think they really don't grapple in a meaningful way with the economic development impact," he said.
Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Henry County, was more blunt. "We've been fighting double-digit unemployment in my area since 2000, and to be quite honest, we can't wait for another study."
A Southside college has bipartisan support in state government. Gov. Mark Warner has said he will include $1.5 million for the development of such a college in his proposed state budget for the next fiscal year. Attorney General Jerry Kilgore has also endorsed the idea.
SCHEV weighed two competing proposals for how the school could function.
The first proposal, called the New College of Virginia, would be located in downtown Martinsville and allow students to earn a bachelor's degree in just over two years. That proposal, led by former James Madison University president Ronald Carrier, has the hefty financial backing of the nonprofit Harvest Foundation, which has offered $50 million toward a college built in the Henry County/Martinsville area.
The second, called the Collaborative 2+2 Program, advocated jointly by Longwood University, Old Dominion University and Patrick Henry Community College, would locate a four-year college program on the PHCC campus in Henry County.
In Wednesday's report, the scales tipped slightly in favor of the 2+2 plan. SCHEV recommended that if the General Assembly wants to go forward with a college this year, it should use the 2+2 model, which the report called more affordable.
Longwood College released a statement Wednesday supporting SCHEV's recommendation of a delay for further study.
In contrast, a statement from Carrier read, "We are driven by a sense of urgency to expand educational and economic opportunities for area residents. Any delay would be disappointing." Carrier said he'll continue to work with education officials and legislators "to implement the New College program as soon as possible."
The report suggested that the Harvest Foundation provide matching funds of up to $2.5 million to fund programs to increase the number of potential college students in Southside. Foundation executive director Harry Cerino said the foundation has already invested $2.5 million in Henry County/Martinsville schools, and would welcome a state funding match.
The report questioned whether a Southside college would actually help with economic development in the region.
Kaine called a statement in the report that a new four-year public college may not help reduce Virginia's enrollment demand "ridiculous." While the proposed program would predominantly serve Southside residents, he believes students from throughout the commonwealth would eventually enroll.
Kaine said that he and supporters of the proposal would continue to push strongly for a new college program in Southside.
"I think it would be a horrible thing for Virginia to turn its back on the need for higher education in that region, and particularly when community leaders have stepped forward with $50 million," Kaine said.
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