Program to help residents get to 'Finish Line' with a degree

August 24, 2011

By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Nearly 9,000 residents of Henry County and Martinsville have some college credits but no degree, according to Dr. Barry Dorsey, executive director at NCI. Through a new partnership with NCI, area community colleges are going to try to convince those people to return to college to finish their degrees.

With about $165,000 from the Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, the New College Institute (NCI) has partnered with three area community colleges — Patrick Henry (PHCC), Danville (DCC) and Southside Virginia (SVCC) — along with other higher education entities and community organizations to offer a new initiative called “Finish Line,” according to a news release and announcement on Tuesday.

Finish Line is a two-year project that will identify and inform students who are within 15 credit hours of receiving an associate degree and give them a path to complete their degree and then hopefully transfer into a baccalaureate program, the release said.

Others would get credentials to enter the work force in critical fields in jobs such as advanced manufacturing technicians and health care workers, said the release.

The project goals include: establishing a regional public-private higher education consortia that will identify potential students; using the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia’s data to identify potential students via ZIP codes; expanding use of experiential and portfolio learning; promoting degrees that appeal to prospective students; developing a communications campaign that will be regional in focus and scope; and providing a financial incentive program such as scholarships to help complete the credential, the release said.

Through the funding, each community college has hired community outreach specialists who will coordinate the project in their respective areas.

Shelira Morrison has been named project coordinator at PHCC.

Morrison said that so far, she has identified about 1,200 students in the PHCC database that are within 15 credit hours of receiving an associate degree. Once the project is further off the ground, she will identify those who may have attended other community colleges and have moved to the area, she added.

As part of her recruiting, she will inform potential students how a higher education can positively affect “the economic climate for our area,” Morrison said.

The project is an opportunity for the area to build an educated and highly skilled work force, Dorsey said.

The difference in salaries for people with a college degree versus those without one is $10,000 a year, according to Dorsey.

“To get a good job, you need a good education,” said Gov. Bob McDonnell from Richmond during a video conference.

“Training young people in those important disciplines that will give them a great job in the future ... and doing that at a reasonable cost is critically important,” he said.

McDonnell said having a trained work force in an area helps recruit businesses. “Work force development is at the very top of CEOs’ minds these days,” he said.

Aside from bringing in businesses to boost a local economy, the entire country can benefit from more people seeking higher education.

An Aug. 22 article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch stated that 493,000 students began college nationally in 2002 but did not earn degrees within six years, losing an estimated $3.8 billion in earnings in 2010 alone. Those earnings would have generated $566 million in federal income-tax revenue and more than $164 million in state income taxes, according to a report by the American Institutes for Research.

For those who do not continue their educations due to financial issues, “there’s so much financial aid out there,” Morrison said, adding that a lot of PHCC’s financial aid comes from federal grants such as Pell and On Ramp.

For more information on continuing an education, contact Morrison by phone at 656-5465 or by email at

The other higher education partners in the project include: Southern Virginia Higher Education Center in South Boston; Averett University in Danville; Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville; Ferrum College in Ferrum; Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville; Longwood University in Farmville; and Virginia State University in Petersburg, the release said.

Also involved are chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, private sector employers, school divisions and the tobacco commission, according to the release.


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