New College clears hurdle

January 29, 2006

Bulletin Staff Writer

The New College Institute took a step toward reality last week, when the four-member Senate Higher Education Subcommittee unanimously voted to favorably report the college's enabling bill.

The legislation will now be considered by the 14-member Senate Education and Health Committee. Similar committee-level reviews of the bill will occur in the House of Delegates.

"What we found again (Thursday) is that the General Assembly members are willing to listen to our case and many express support for helping Southside," said Dr. Barry Dorsey, executive director of the New College Institute Planning Commission. "But there's still a lot of work to do."

That work includes not only procuring passage of the institution's enabling legislation, said Dorsey, but also securing the $4.5 million earmarked for the New College in Gov. Mark Warner's proposed budget.

Toward that end, Dorsey, who arrived in Martinsville last week, said he had been making frequent calls and visits to delegates and senators, the governor's office and "anybody who can help get this bill passed."

Though he said reaction to those efforts has been positive, particularly from among the House and Senate's Southside delegation, Dorsey said some legislators have expressed reservations about supporting the New College.

In part, he said that hesitation stems from a misconception among some legislators that the New College Bill calls for the establishment of a new stand-alone university, as was proposed by Dr. Ronald Carrier a year ago.

"We have a lot of work to do in explaining exactly what we're proposing here," said Dorsey.

But while bringing the General Assembly up to date about the proposal has allayed some doubts about the college, other legislators have raised concerns that are less easily dispensed.

Among those are difficulties in seeing how the institute would benefit all of Virginia.

Legislators have also expressed concerns about the wisdom of establishing a new public institution of higher learning when funding for the Commonwealth's other colleges and universities is so limited.

In response to the latter misgiving, Dorsey said he has pointed out that the New College will not take away funding for other institutions because it already has been included in the budget.

To the former reservation, he said he points out that the institute will have a positive, transformative effect upon economically-beleaguered Southside and that what is good for part of Virginia is good for all of Virginia.

Those arguments should be well-received, said Dorsey, because while some legislators may not yet fully support the New College, they all support Southside.

"All legislators start with the premise that they want to help Southside," he said.

The real task, then, is convincing those parties that the New College is the best way to accomplish that task, said Dorsey.

In that effort, the executive director said he received a boost from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) report released earlier this month.

The report not only identified a need for programs granting four-year degrees in Southside and concluded that the establishment of those programs would aid in economic revitalization efforts but also recommended the same two-tiered development structure.

According to that structure, the New College would begin as a conglomerate of partnerships with existing institutions. Then, several years after its establishment, the institution would report to the state and, if appropriate, request that it become its own stand-alone institution.

Dorsey said he would also use the report, which recommended the establishment of health, education, businesses administration and computer-related programs, as a guide with the development of the institute's curriculum.

But that, he said, will have to wait until after he overcomes the New College's first major hurdle -- its creation.

With strong support from regional delegates and senators, the governor's office and SCHEV, Dorsey said he was confident that, with a little luck and a lot of work, the obstacle could be overcome.

"I'm quite certain that something will emerge from this (legislative) session," he said.


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