College plan takes shape

September 23, 2004

Bulletin Staff Writer

A plan to develop a university in Southside will be presented to state officials in Richmond in October, according to Dr. Ronald E. Carrier, a consultant hired to oversee the initiative.

Carrier, the former president of James Madison University, said the plan for the Institute for Integrated and Applied Studies will be turned over to Gov. Mark Warner's staff for budget consideration. It also will be given to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).

The General Assembly will convene in January to begin work on the state's 2005-06 budget.

Carrier's proposal calls for a two-tiered system that would accommodate both residential students and those who need a flexible schedule.

Residential students would complete a bachelor's degree on an accelerated, 28-month timetable by attending class from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for 10 months of the year, Carrier said. The average undergraduate student takes 56 months to earn a degree, he added.

Coursework would be divided into 10 10-week sessions, with students taking 12 credits each session to amass the 120 required hours for an undergraduate degree, Carrier said.

"It's a very disciplined program," he said.

Students unable to meet the strict schedule because of work or other demands on their time would be able to attend "weekend colleges" at several sites throughout the area. Locations in Patrick and Franklin counties as well as South Boston are being considered for the classes.

Students at the "weekend colleges" would have access to the same materials as residential students, since the college's entire curriculum would be online "like a textbook," Carrier said. A mentor would be on site at each "weekend college" to help students, he added.

Students in the residential program would be allowed to transfer into the weekend program if their circumstances change, he said.

Carrier hopes the plan for the college will serve as a model for higher education in rural areas nationwide, and will attract students who normally would consider earning a college degree to be an unattainable dream.

"We need to get people to start going to college," so friends and family members will follow their lead, Carrier said, because the days of completing high school and getting a factory job are gone.

"They'll become better students in high school because they have hope, their family has hope," he said.

Carrier, the first member of his family to graduate from college, cited his own history as an example of the empowering nature of education.

"I graduated from college in 1951, and 20 years later, I was president of a university," Carrier said.

Plans are to open the residential college with about 1,000 students, Carrier said, and scholarships will be used to reduce tuition and other costs for students. He said he thinks the program can grow substantially once people buy into the concept and see others achieving.

"This program is going to be about teamwork, leadership and self-confidence building. It's going to be an unusual program," he said. "When I came to JMU in 1971, who would have thought that the student population would someday grow from 3,000 to 16,000?"


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