Radford ready for next step

March 16, 2011

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Radford University is ready to prepare a proposal to turn the New College Institute (NCI) in Martinsville into a branch campus of the university.

A dozen officials from Radford, in the southwest Virginia city of the same name, visited NCI on Tuesday to learn more about the institute as well as Martinsville and Henry County. All were impressed with what they saw and heard, according to university President Penelope Kyle.

“I haven’t heard a single negative today that would dissuade us ... from wanting to go forward” in submitting a proposal to acquire NCI, Kyle said.

Joe Scartelli, the university’s interim provost, said Radford officials seem more interested in NCI now than they were before their visit.

“There is a level of commitment and homework that the folks here (at NCI) have done, and it is obvious how serious they are” about persuading a four-year higher education institution to establish a local presence, he said.

Funded by the state and The Harvest Foundation, NCI opened five years ago to help increase the number of Southside residents with college degrees. The region is the only one in the state that does not have a public university and lags behind other areas in terms of its number of adults with degrees.

NCI now has about 400 students, and about 135 people have earned degrees through the institute.

In just a few years, “building this (institute) from the ground up ... was not done just by luck,” Scartelli said. It took a lot of commitment and hard work by the community to make it happen, he said.

Everyone involved has been “extraordinarily passionate” about helping NCI be successful and grow, said Kyle.

Various universities, including Radford, offer degree programs at NCI. If one university eventually acquires it, plans are for the institute — at least initially — to continue offering only third- and fourth-year courses toward bachelor’s degrees, plus courses needed to earn master’s degrees.

Degree programs pertaining to education, business, health and information technology would be offered. Local leaders have said they expect a regional demand for jobs in those fields in the future.

Both Kyle and Scartelli had visited NCI previously and knew what to expect. But other Radford administrators and academicians had not and were amazed at the modern electronic classroom technology as well as how old buildings uptown have been renovated into modern educational facilities, Kyle said.

She said one team member described NCI as having created “an urban-style academic environment in a small-town, rural setting.”

NCI already has all the educational technology it needs “for a fair amount of time going forward,” Scartelli said.

Big-city cultural offerings, such as the Virginia Museum of Natural History, coupled with the small-town charm of the Martinsville area should make it easy for Radford to recruit instructors to teach at NCI, Kyle said.

“I feel like I know this community,” she said. “I feel comfortable with it, that’s for sure.”

She mentioned that Martinsville and her hometown of Galax have a lot in common, such as a furniture industry heritage.

Both have seen “economic fallout” as a result of manufacturers shutting down, Scartelli said.

Kyle and Scartelli said Radford, as well as any university that might acquire NCI, must get involved in local economic development efforts.

If a company comes to the community and needs a school to teach special skills needed for jobs with the firm, “I’d like to think we’re nimble enough” to meet the firm’s needs “fairly quickly,” Scartelli said.

Along with similarities between areas they now serve, “there are a lot of commonalities between our institutions,” said NCI Executive Director Barry Dorsey.

He and NCI administrators mentioned, for example, that both have much experience in educating people who are the first in their families to attend college and finding ways for those students to afford college.

“We know ... what attracts them (to higher education) and makes them successful at the college level,” Scartelli said.

Kyle said Radford officials are “already salivating” at the chance to reach out to potential first-time college students in the Martinsville area. Outreach efforts must include contact with children — including ones in elementary school — so they can learn about the benefits of going to college, she said.

She noted that educational outreach is like religion in that “it’s missionary work. You’ve got to spread the word” about opportunities.

Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason universities also are considering the possibility of making NCI a branch campus of their institutions and have sent representatives to visit the institute.

Also considering the possibility is Virginia State University, which plans to send representatives to visit NCI on March 24.

By April 15, the universities must send formal proposals for acquiring NCI to a committee that will evaluate them. The boards of NCI and Harvest then will choose a university to try to affiliate with, Dorsey said.

A bill must be introduced in the 2012 General Assembly to make NCI the chosen university’s branch campus, he said.

“I don’t think it will require an additional commitment” of funds initially, said Dorsey.

However, officials with interested universities have indicated more funds may be needed in the future if they take over NCI. Scartelli said Radford barely has enough funds to take care of needs on its main campus.

“I hope we receive four strong proposals” from the universities, Dorsey said.


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