NCI group will recommend option in September report

July 23, 2010

A report being prepared by a commission studying the future of the New College Institute will recommend one of three options for the institute’s future, the commission’s director said Thursday.

The report, which will be finalized by Sept. 1, is being created by the New College 2012 Commission. That group was established by The Harvest Foundation to look at NCI’s progress and recommend options for its future.

During a board meeting at NCI on Thursday, William Leighty, the executive director of the 2012 commission, reported on its work to date.

NCI is a state-supported school in uptown Martinsville that provides local access to advanced courses needed to earn certain bachelor’s and master’s degrees from universities in the state. In 2012, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia is expected to decide whether the institute should stay as it is or become a stand-alone university or a branch campus of an existing university.

The commission studied those three options for NCI, and the final report will recommend one of them, Leighty said. He did not specify which one.

However, Leighty said that in the current economic environment, gaining the funding and support to make NCI a stand-alone institution would be difficult. He added that every college founded in Virginia since 1830 began as a branch of an existing institution.

If NCI seeks to become a branch college, there must be some sense of whether there is another institution that would take on the school, Leighty said. It must also be an institution that brings strength to NCI, he told the board.

Leighty said commission members will meet Aug. 12 in Richmond to go over a draft of the report, and then again Aug. 31 in Martinsville. By Sept. 1, the report will be presented to the boards of New College Institute and the Harvest Foundation, and a recommendation on how NCI should proceed will be discussed, he said.

The report probably will be presented to NCI and Harvest simultaneously, but the logistics still are being worked out, Leighty said.

There are several prerequisites for a successful report, he said. The report must demonstrate to its audience that NCI is affordable, accessible and has a unique role in comparison with the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) in Danville and the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center in South Boston, he said.

Leighty said accessibility can be demonstrated by an ability to cater to the lifestyles and needs of the students. For example, NCI offers classes for working professionals on nights and weekends, as well as video-conferencing and Internet-based courses.

Although the missions of IALR and the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center are different from NCI, it is important for those who do not live in the area to clearly understand the differences, Leighty said.

Del. Don Merricks, R-Pittsylvania County and a member of NCI’s board, agreed with Leighty.

NCI Executive Director Barry Dorsey said the institutions differ in several ways, and they provide different services to the surrounding communities. NCI is a special-purpose institution that provides bachelor’s-completion and master’s degrees, he said.

IALR is a research facility and conference center, Dorsey said. The Southern Virginia Higher Education Center is made up of 84 percent community college students, who could then transfer to an institution such as NCI to complete their bachelor’s degrees, he added.

Leighty said the report will give local legislators such as Merricks a consistent and concise way to explain the uniqueness of each institution to key decision-makers in Richmond.

The primary audience for the commission’s report is the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. The commission hopes the council will use the report in its own study of NCI before making a recommendation on how it should proceed in 2012. If the report is successful, it will aid the council in its study, providing clear information on exactly what makes NCI affordable, accessible and unique, Leighty said.

Finally, the report also must show how NCI can improve economic development in the area, Leighty said. He feels that through transforming the educational culture in the area, NCI can help create economic development because a highly educated work force will attract jobs.


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