Official reflects on possible NCI future

February 22, 2011

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) official sees the possibility of the New College Institute (NCI) eventually becoming a four-year school.

Five public universities statewide, including VCU, have expressed interest in the idea of making the institute a branch campus that teaches only third- and fourth-year courses toward bachelor’s degrees, plus master’s degree courses. As is now the case, students would have to take their first- and second-year courses at another institution, such as a community college.

Joe Marolla, VCU’s vice provost for instruction, and other VCU officials visited NCI on Monday. Based on conversations they had with local educators and community leaders, he said, “I think what they want” ultimately is a four-year university presence in Martinsville.

“They want more than people just coming and going” each day, Marolla said. “They want students to identify with something here” so they will stay in the community and help boost the local economy.

Having NCI affiliated with a single university would “help students see it in the way they do other colleges,” he said.

Marolla said that while he sees “the potential,” turning the institute into a four-year school would be “down the road,” if it ever happens.

However, he thinks a four-year university presence would have the most impact on Henry County, Martinsville and the surrounding area.

In pursuing higher education, students frequently want to identify with one particular school that they think will have a positive, major impact on their lives, he indicated.

The longer they attend the same school, the more they can identify with it because of the more time they will be able to spend socializing with friends and developing other types of connections they will remember for years, according to Marolla.

In the college experience, students “learn a lot from their classmates” as well as their instructors, he noted.

Universities generally try to help freshmen — more so than other classes — form bonds of friendship as well as other ties to the university, Marolla said. Being that undergraduates would enter NCI at the junior level, the university that makes the institute a branch campus would need to find ways to bond students who are well into their higher education experience, he said.

Also, when undergraduates are able to take all four years of courses at one school, they do not have to worry about whether their first- and second-year courses will transfer to another school, Marolla said.

But if it eventually takes over the institute, VCU would develop a strong relationship with Patrick Henry Community College so students there who intend to transfer to NCI will know exactly what courses they must take to transfer, he said.

Marolla said it will be important for universities to have strong bonds with community colleges in the future because, due to economic factors, many students will not be able to attend a four-year school for all four years — especially if universities have to increase their tuition rates to get enough money to cover all their expenses.


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