Budget debate does not halt NCI progress

March 15, 2006

By Matthew McCormick
Bulletin Staff Writer

While a bitter budget debate may have stymied the General Assembly, it has not halted progress at the New College Institute.

Richmond's budget deadlock - which resulted in the scheduling of a special session for March 27 - has left funding for the New College up in the air.  But institute officials nevertheless are working to plan a demonstration project slated for this fall.

The project could allow the institute to begin offering the last two years of degree-granting programs through other colleges and universties on a limited basis.

"We're thinking about programs that we might potentially offer," said Dr. Barry Dorsey, executive director of the New College Institute planning commission.  "We're developing a priority list of programs."

To do so, Dorsey said he will enlist the help of colleges and universities that might offer classes here as well as area community, education and business leaders, with whom he plans to talk this week.

The meetings, he said, "come from my determination to offer programs that are most needed in this region.  How do we find out? We ask. That is what we are doing this week.

Ultimately, though, the New College's ability to meet the region's higher education needs will be determined by the amount the state appropriates for the New College in its budget.

While Gov. Mark Warner included $4.5 million for the institute in his budget proposal, that figure has been slashed to $2.4 million in the House and $1.4 million in the Senate.

Though the General Assembly has no obligation to adopt any of those plans, Dorsey said he was confident that Gov. Tim Kaine, who listed the creation of the New College as one of the major legislative achievements of 2006, would not let the institute go unfunded.

It is not just money that is at stake in the budget conference committee's deliberations.

In addition to the monetary discrepancy, the committee ironing out the differences between the chamber's two proposals will consider language in the House plan - but not in the Senate proposal - stipulating that the New College use half of its annual $1.2 million appropriation to establish visiting faculty programs with three specific institutions.

Under the language, Longwood University would offer teacher education, Radford University would teach nursing and the University of Virginia would provide computer science and technology instruction.

If that stipulation is included in the final budget bill, Dorsey said it could restrict the New College Institute's ability to tailor its programming to meet the area's specific needs.

"There's no indication that the language will be in the final appropriation act at all," said Dorsey. "But if it did appear...I would ask (the state) for maximum flexibility and I think they would give it to us."

Whatever the General Assembly decides to do in regards to the New College funding or budget language, Dorsey hopes they do it fast.

"The longer that we have to wait to put things in place for the fall, the more difficulty it will be to attract students," he said, "because most of them will make their decision of where to go to college between now and the 15th of April."


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