NCI officials praise four universities

May 17, 2011

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Any of the four universities considering making the New College Institute (NCI) a branch campus would make a great parent institution, according to local leaders who recently visited the universities.

“Each of them have many, many interesting and exciting programs which they could bring here and enhance what we’re doing” to lure companies to Henry County and Martinsville and make the area a better place to live and work, said Allyson Rothrock, executive director of The Harvest Foundation.

NCI is a state- and Harvest-funded school providing local access to higher-level courses needed to earn certain bachelor’s and master’s degrees from universities throughout the state.

Representatives of NCI and Harvest visited George Mason, Radford, Virginia Commonwealth and Virginia State universities in recent weeks. Officials from those universities already had visited the institute.

By June 1, the universities are to submit proposals detailing how they would go about making NCI a branch campus and what they would offer there.

Plans are for NCI, as a branch of a university, to initially remain a “two-plus-two” campus in which students would take their first two years of bachelor’s degree courses at a community college, then transfer to the institute to take their remaining degree requirements.

The university that takes over NCI would offer at the Martinsville campus degree programs pertaining to education, business, information technology and health — job fields that local leaders have determined are able to help boost the area’s economy.

It is possible that they could offer more, but a request for proposals sent to universities specifically mentioned those fields.

Different universities structure degree program requirements differently.

Therefore, “we don’t yet know what specific programs would be,” said NCI Executive Director Barry Dorsey. Those are to be revealed as part of the universities’ proposals for taking over the institute, he said.

Virginia Commonwealth would like to see the institute have a research component, Dorsey said. It was the only one of the four universities to mention research during discussions with NCI officials, he said.

Dorsey and Rothrock were among multiple people from NCI and Harvest to visit the universities. They were impressed with each of the four.

“Each school gave us their undivided attention” during the trips, Rothrock said. “It was phenomenal.”

Dorsey said George Mason has a large amount of resources to potentially develop a broad range of degree programs at NCI.

That university is based in the bustling Northern Virginia region. Dorsey said he liked an idea presented in which George Mason could send some students at campuses there to Martinsville for one or two semesters to help them get “a better understanding of rural America.”

In preparing students for careers, Rothrock said, George Mason promotes “a spirit of entrepreneurism” that would fit well in Martinsville as local leaders try to encourage people to start their own businesses.

Radford is based in the New River Valley. Rothrock said the university has unique fine arts programs, particularly for an institution of its size in a rural area. She said she thinks the programs would complement Martinsville-area arts programs such as the Piedmont Arts Association and TheatreWorks.

The Radford area’s geography is similar to that of the Martinsville area, and university President Penelope Kyle is from Galax, a small city in the New River Valley. For those reasons, Dorsey said he thinks Radford has a good grasp on needs of students in rural communities.

A research component by Richmond-based Virginia Commonwealth could help generate new ideas for economic development, Dorsey said.

Both he and Rothrock noted that the university has a strong health sciences program that includes medical and dental schools. The latter sends dentists-in-training to the Community Dental Clinic in Martinsville to gain experience.

Opportunities could arise for more health care collaborations if Virginia Commonwealth expands its involvement in Martinsville, they said.

NCI and Virginia State, which is based in Petersburg, already are similar in that they both educate large numbers of students who are the first in their families to go to college, Dorsey noted.

Rothrock said she saw opportunities for links between that university and programs going on in area schools.

For instance, she said to her knowledge that Virginia State is the only one of the four universities with an agriculture program. There could be “an instant connection” with Magna Vista High School’s horticulture program, she said.

In attracting a university, “we have so much to offer, too,” Rothrock said of Martinsville and Henry County, including “exemplary” schools from which they could draw students and lots of arts and recreation activities.

A university’s takeover of NCI would have to be approved by the boards of the university, the institute and Harvest before being reviewed by the General Assembly.

Harvest and NCI aim to choose a university and announce an affiliation proposal by June 30, Dorsey said.

If the General Assembly gives its approval, Martinsville could officially have a branch campus of a university by July of next year, he said.


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