College gets $2.4 million

June 24, 2006

By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer

June 18, 2006

The New College Institute emerged from the state budget impasse with $2.4 million, enough to launch its operations and pilot program this fall.

"We are thrilled to have the House amount appropriated ... This will allow us to get up and running and we're ready to get our pilot program running this fall," said Leanna Blevins, associate director of the New College Institute (NCI).

With the funding news coming just three days after Gov. Tim Kaine signed enabling legislation for the institute, "we're off to a great start," Blevins said.

The 96-day budget stalemate ended Friday with tentative agreement on a $72 billion, two-year spending plan that will take effect July 1.

Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville, learned Saturday that the college had received the House-backed appropriation of $2.4 million, rather than the $1.4 million proposed by the Senate.

"The House funding was sustained," he said.

At one point, he said there was talk of including The Harvest Foundation's pledge of matching funds in the appropriation. On Saturday it could not be determined for certain that had not happen, but Armstrong said it was unlikely because the money was included in the general fund.

R.H. "Rob" Spilman, chairman of the New College Institute Planning Commission who was appointed to the NCI board by Gov. Kaine last week, said there was "a great sense of satisfaction" in the funding approval.

"So many people have had a roll and a part in this. There have been so many ebbs and flows along the way" that it was stressful, especially because "so many people wanted it to happen for the community," Spilman said.

But with the funding issued settled, "we are going to be an entity officially and the future is up to us. In anything, you want a shot to succeed and we've got that now," he added.

Elizabeth Haskell, also a member of the New College Institute Planning Commission who also was named to the NCI board, praised the funding.

"I think it's a very strong endorsement of the General Assembly for the New College Institute. It's a really strong signal that they know the governor is behind this, the community is behind this and it's something really important to do," she said.

"Next year we'll go in for even more," she added, referring to Kaine's statement last week that he could rectify any legislative monetary slight of the institute when he makes second-year budget amendments.

The $2.4 million appropriation will translate into a total $4.8 million budget for the New College Institute if The Harvest Foundation's pledge to match the state's funding in the biennium is not included in the state budget.

Allison Rothrock, interim director of The Harvest Foundation, was ecstatic at news of the state funding. The foundation had issued a $50 million challenge grant to the state to set up a college or university in Henry County or Martinsville.

"I've always remained optimistic. It's something we supported so much; the whole community supported it," she said, adding that she felt the strong community backing of the New College Institute was critical to its support in the General Assembly.

Armstrong credited House Appropriations staff member Tony Maggio with working to keep the House funding for the institute in the budget compromise.

"You don't hear his name a lot but we work closely," Armstrong said. Last week, Maggio asked Armstrong to "let me work on it" to keep the institute's funding from being compromised.

The former Shumate & Jessie furniture store in uptown Martinsville is being renovated for New College Institute classes that will start this fall in a pilot program.

Students will be able to complete the last two years of bachelor's degree programs and master's degree programs conducted by Averett University, Ferrum College, University of Virginia, Longwood University and Radford University, starting over the next year.

Dr. Barry Dorsey, executive director of the New College Institute, said the funding is "tremendous and validates the work of a lot of people. It also is recognition that the Senate realizes we are starting the pilot project this year, not 2007, the date mentioned in the legislation itself."

He added that he had "made commitments and negotiations for fall based on faith. ... It looks like it's all going to work out."


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