College proposal advances

February 3, 2006

Proposals for the creation of a new college in Martinsville and Henry County have moved to the next level.

Senate Bill 40 was reported out of the Health and Education Committee on Thursday and re-referred to the Senate Finance Committee, according to state Senator Roscoe Reynolds, D-Ridgeway.

Reynolds said he does not know when the Finance Committee will meet again, but the proposal is expected to be considered when it does.

In the House on Tuesday, the Higher Education Subcommittee unanimously reported (recommended) the proposal's counterpart—House Bill 517—with amendments, according to Del. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham.

The proposal, sponsored by Hurt and Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville, now will be considered by the full Education Committee on Monday.

"We'll try to do everything we can to have it reported out," Hurt said.

The bill calls for creation of the New College Institute, which would offer baccalaureate-level degrees in this area through partnerships with existing colleges and universities.  That replaced a proposal for the New College of Virginia, which would have created a four-year institution of higher education in this area to offer degrees on an accelerated schedule.

Hurt said the New College Institute bill is an easier sell to legislators from other areas because "the modified proposal makes so much sense," especially when compared to the bricks-and-mortar campus originally proposed.

However, there still are some difficulties with the streamlined version, mainly because local legislators must detail the new concept to other lawmakers, Hurt said.  But, he added, it is worth the effort.

"This is an important bill and we've got to get it through the House and Senate," Hurt said.

Both proposals are similar, covering topics including curriculum, board membership, appointments, terms, compensation and officers.

The proposals also specify that the New College Institute should seek to diversify the region's economy, serve as a catalyst for economic and community transformation, provide a site for technology development and work force training, expand educational opportunities and coordinate with other agencies to develop and delivery programs.

Legislators must also work to protect the $4.5 million earmarked for the institute by Gov. Mark Warner in his proposed budget.


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