Institue charts growth

July 25, 2008

The New College Institute (NCI) in Martinsville has seen many achievements since it opened two years ago, according to Executive Director Barry Dorsey. “It almost is impossible to believe” that the institute has progressed so much in a short time, he told the NCI board of directors on Thursday. The state-funded institute, which opened in July 2006 in uptown, offers students local access to courses needed to complete bachelor’s and master’s degree programs at colleges and universities statewide.

A major goal of NCI is to increase the number of college-educated adults in Henry County and Martinsville. Statistics show that only about 11 percent of adults in the community have college degrees. That is a much lower percentage than in some other areas of the state. While the focus right now is on serving Henry County and Martinsville, NCI administrators and board members hope state officials eventually will allow the institute to evolve into a four-year public university. No such university now exists in Southside.

NCI opened a year ahead of schedule, and officials have said the number of students attending the institute so far has been greater than they originally anticipated. The number of students enrolled at NCI increased from 118 in the 2006-07 fiscal year to 254 in the year that ended June 30, figures show. There were 11 degree programs — including eight undergraduate and three graduate degree programs — for students to choose from in 2007-08. That number will increase to 14 during spring semester 2009.

Outreach staff members at NCI have discussed learning opportunities with more than 5,000 people, and a “transfer guide” was developed for each undergraduate program being taught at the institute. The guides list first- and second-year courses that students should take at a community college or other institution so they will have a seamless transition when they enroll at NCI, which provides third- and fourth-year courses.

Six faculty-in-residence/program directors now work at the institute. They are employed and paid by the institutions that confer the degrees, but they are based in Martinsville, oversee the programs and teach classes.

With funds from The Harvest Foundation, the New College Foundation gave 94 grants to first-time undergraduate students at NCI in the past year. The students received either $4,000 for the year or $2,000 for one semester. “A lot of students who applied for the grants couldn’t get them” since they had not taken prerequisite courses necessary to pursue degrees at NCI, Dorsey said. That, he added, was why transfer guides were developed.

Other NCI accomplishments mentioned by Dorsey include:

• Launching a Teacher’s Academy providing educators with endorsements in “critical” subjects, such as science, plus teacher recertification classes.

• The foundation is beginning to receive private donations in support of the institute, as well as organizing a campaign to establish an endowment.

• Offering summer internship programs for local college students each year, as well as summer camps for younger students and many outreach programs. Those programs include a reading program in local schools and a noncredit lecture series for the public.

NCI entered its third year of operation on July 1. Dorsey foresees a bright future ahead for the institute. Four new degree programs are planned. A bachelor’s degree in individualized study from James Madison University and a bachelor’s degree in information technology from Radford University will be added this fall. A master’s degree in counseling from Old Dominion University as well as a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Norfolk State University will be added for the spring semester. The NCI board on Thursday unanimously approved adding those programs.

Dorsey called the master’s in counseling program “a real coup” for NCI. Old Dominion is administering the program, but it will be based at NCI, which will provide other institutions access to the courses through videoconferencing. NCI board member George Lyle asked if the institute will be able to count students at other places around the state who participate in the program through videoconferencing as NCI students, and Dorsey said it would.

Due to the new degree programs and a projected enrollment increase, NCI will lease space in Jefferson Plaza as well as buildings on the Courthouse Square in Martinsville. Dorsey said he anticipates NCI having at least 325 students by the spring. He also said that NCI’s state funding will increase to $1,484,809 for 2008-09, and The Harvest Foundation will match those funds. However, he told board members that state funding could drop in the future as a result of fears that state officials have about revenues growing at lower-than-anticipated rates.


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