NCI, partners in talks about degrees

October 9, 2011

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

In about four months, potential students may get their first glimpse of the New College Institute’s future degree roster.

“By the end of January, I expect major decisions will have been made” as to what academic programs NCI will offer starting next fall through partnerships with three universities, said NCI Executive Director Barry Dorsey.

NCI, in uptown Martinsville, now provides local access to upper-level courses needed to earn certain bachelor’s and master’s degrees conferred by various universities statewide. In September, the state-supported institute unveiled a partnership with three universities — Radford, Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) and Virginia State (VSU) — beginning with the fall semester of 2012.

Those universities will offer degree programs at NCI pertaining to business, education, information technology and health care. Officials have determined those are career fields in which professionals will be in heavy demand locally in the future.

Dorsey said, though, that no decisions have been made yet on exactly what degree programs will be offered. Discussions with Radford and VCU recently began, and conversations with VSU will start soon, he said.

He said NCI and the three universities must decide on the degree programs as soon as possible so the institute can begin marketing them and recruiting students.

In marketing and recruiting efforts, “our focus has always been on students in this area,” Dorsey said. “I know this will be our primary focus” in the future.

That is because NCI opened in 2006 with a goal of increasing the number of college-educated adults in Southside. Studies have shown that only about 11 percent of the region’s adults ages 25 and older have earned degrees. That is the lowest percentage of any region in the state.

Southside also is the state’s only region lacking a public university. Public universities generally have lower tuition rates than private ones.

NCI’s enrollment so far has peaked at more than 400 students. More than 240 students have earned degrees through the institute.

Dorsey said he could not project what the future enrollment may be.

Talks with the partner universities also have focused on needs such as being able to offer students services supporting their academic pursuits, such as tutoring and counseling, according to Dorsey.

“We have a larger number of first-generation students” — who are the first in their families to pursue college — than many colleges and universities, and they need support and encouragement, he said.

Also, “we have a lot of families with no experience with higher education,” and they must learn the importance of earning the best possible education, Dorsey added.

Studies have shown that the better educated a person is, the higher the salaries they are likely to earn.

Discussions originally took place about the possibility of NCI evolving into a branch campus of either Radford, VCU or VSU. That idea was shelved for the time being, largely due to economic reasons.

At least two of the universities remain interested in acquiring the institute someday.

When asked if her university still is interested, Radford President Penelope Kyle answered “absolutely.” She said that is why the university agreed to participate in the partnership.

“We want to keep our oars in the water” at NCI in case the idea of making it a university branch campus comes up again, she said.

VSU remains potentially interested, according to President Keith Miller.

But if the idea arises again, he said, “we’d have to determine what’s best for NCI and the people of Southside Virginia” in deciding whether to pursue it.

Anne Buckley, VCU’s director of communications, said the university is “very pleased to continue its partnership with NCI” in offering degree programs.

She referred further comment to VCU Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs Beverly J. Warren. She has been unavailable for comment.


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