SCHEV hopes state will back institute

January 15, 2006

Bulletin Staff Writer

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia hopes the General Assembly will back the effort to establish the New College Institute in Martinsville or Henry County to help area students obtain baccalaureate degrees, a SCHEV official said Friday.

"We strongly support" the institute, said SCHEV Executive Director Daniel LaVista. The two-step framework to establish the institute is a "reasonable model approach that we hope the General Assembly will support."

The framework, which SCHEV helped the New College Planning Commission develop, calls for the institute to open July 1 but students would not be taught until the fall of 2007. The institute initially would help students earn four-year degrees from affiliated colleges and universities without actually attending those institutions.

If the institute is successful, it could evolve into an independent school or branch campus of an established college or university, maybe by 2012, the framework shows.

A report issued by SCHEV last week showed a significant need for four-year degrees to be offered in the Henry County-Martinsville area. It cited economic problems and a lack of a strong culture of college attendance locally.

The framework does not immediately establish a new university, but instead "a local administrative structure that identifies student demand for four-year degree programs," the report stated. The institute would get state funds and issue requests for proposals to existing two- and four-year public and private institutions to provide four-year degree programs locally, added the report.

SCHEV and institute planning commission officials on Friday acknowledged that there has been some misunderstanding about the report, especially a statement that the framework "does not create a new higher education institution." That originally was the New College of Virginia goal.

LaVista said that SCHEV does not view the institute as initially being a higher education institution, but rather "an organizational unit driven administratively to be responsible for a whole host of things," including helping students obtain financial aid and "bringing together partnering institutions."

Leanna Blevins, vice president for student and community development for the institute's planning commission, explained that when a student tells the institute that he or she wants to pursue a certain degree, the institute would determine which of its affiliated institutions offers that degree and place the student in a program offered locally through that college or university.

Still, "we have to be some sort of institution in order to receive state funds," she said.

People should not perceive statements in the report to mean that SCHEV does not support the institute eventually becoming an independent school, LaVista said.

The SCHEV report mentions the possibility of using space at Patrick Henry Community College to help students earn four-year degrees.

LaVista said that was not intended to be a stumbling block for the institute. He said that SCHEV officials "weren't asked" to directly discuss the proposal for the institute in the report, entitled "Report on the Analysis of Education Demand in Southside Virginia and Recommendations for Action."

Institute officials are "pleased with SCHEV's report," Blevins said. She called it "a push forward" in convincing lawmakers to fund the institute.

"It is aligned with the structure (for the institute) being presented in the General Assembly this session," she said of the report.

LaVista said that he and outgoing state Secretary of Education Peter Blake expressed their support for the institute to the Senate Finance Committee in Richmond on Thursday. They were joined by state Sen. W. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Ridgeway, and Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville.

"We had a spirited exchange for nearly an hour" with committee members about the institute, why it is needed, The Harvest Foundation's $50 million challenge grant to the state and four-year degrees that students would be able to obtain through the institute.

SCHEV has suggested that the institute offer students access to degrees pertaining to health, education, business administration and computers.

"We felt very positive about the meeting" with the finance committee, LaVista said. He said that the committee members were attentive and seemed to understand education needs in Southside.

Blevins said that institute officials are "working hard in Richmond" to win legislative approval "and we know our lawmakers are."


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