VCU, VSU, GMU, Old Dominion and Radford vying for affiliation

February 13, 2011

By Karin Kapsidelis
Richmond Times Dispatch


Five public universities are considering the prospect of taking on New College Institute in Martinsville as a branch campus.

They are Virginia Commonwealth, Old Dominion and Radford universities, which now offer degree programs at NCI, and George Mason and Virginia State universities, which do not.

"It would add a new dimension to the university," said George Mason Provost Peter Stearns, who sees mutual benefits for GMU and for a region trying to boost itself through higher education.

"Less importantly," he added, it would enhance GMU's position by giving a statewide presence to the school now closely identified with Northern Virginia.

Retired VCU President Eugene P. Trani, who is heading the search, said he is taking a neutral stance on which school is selected. The five schools in the running offer programs in the four areas of interest to NCI — education, business, health and information technology.

A core residential faculty will be an important component of the branch campus, he said. NCI has eight faculty members based in Martinsville, although courses also are offered by videoconferencing and visiting professors.

Trani said the affiliation would require approval of the NCI board, the board of visitors of the parent school and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia before the plan is submitted to the General Assembly next session.

That would make fall 2013 the earliest likely opening of the branch campus.

Trani and former University of Virginia President John T. Casteen were co-chairmen of the New College Institute 2012 Commission, which explored NCI's options and came up with the branch campus recommendation.

U.Va., which already has the College at Wise, chose not to affiliate with NCI, said spokeswoman Carol Wood.

Virginia Tech and James Madison University also did not pursue the offer.

A key aspect of Tech's education is the residential undergraduate experience and research opportunities, which would be difficult and costly to replicate off-campus, spokesman Larry Hincker said.

James Shaeffer, JMU's associate vice provost for outreach and engagement, said he thinks the plan is a good idea.

"Unfortunately, the timing is not necessarily the best for JMU to move on this," he said, citing the retirement of President Linwood Rose and recessionary restraints.

But he said JMU, one of NCI's eight partner institutions, will be interested in continuing to work with NCI if it becomes a branch campus of another university. Such partnerships will need to increase to meet Gov. Bob McDonnell's challenge to educate more Virginians, he said.


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