NCI, future partners working to decide on degrees to offer

October 27, 2011

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Negotiations are continuing with three universities that soon will partner with the New College Institute (NCI) to offer degree programs there starting next fall.

unded by the state and The Harvest Foundation, NCI currently offers local access to high-level courses needed to earn certain degrees and certificates from eight universities.

Radford, Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) and Virginia State (VSU) universities have formed a partnership to offer all of NCI’s academic programs beginning in the fall of 2012. They formed the partnership as a result of NCI looking to eventually become a branch campus of one of the universities.

Immediate plans to become a branch campus were put on hold, mainly due to economic reasons. Yet being folded into a university “still is the ultimate goal,” Executive Director Barry Dorsey told NCI’s board on Wednesday.

The universities are expected to submit proposals for degree programs and student support services to NCI in about six weeks, said Associate Director Leanna Blevins, who will become the institute’s chief academic officer. (See related story.)

Radford will offer education degree programs. VSU will offer agricultural and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degree programs, and VCU will offer business, information technology and health care degree programs, Blevins said.

Those fields were chosen based on the area’s economic needs.

Exactly what degrees in those fields will be offered is what the universities now are determining, she said.

There will be “no unnecessary duplication” of degrees by the universities, Dorsey said.

Other universities’ degree programs at NCI are being phased out. Dorsey said the institutions still would like to offer programs there in the future.

Whether they can will be “a decision for you all to make in the future,” he told board members.

The three partner universities eventually may offer degrees in other fields, added Blevins.

Board Chairman Rob Spilman asked when the institute expects to be able to announce the exact degree programs. Early January, Blevins replied.

“We’re on a fast-moving train to get this done,” she said.

The sooner that the degrees are decided upon, the sooner community college students can determine which courses they need to take as prerequisites to enroll in NCI programs, she noted.

College students pursuing bachelor’s degrees can take junior- and senior-level courses at NCI. They must take their freshman- and sophomore-level courses at a community college or another higher-education institution.

NCI wants to eventually attract students from everywhere. However, it was launched in 2006 with a goal of increasing the number of adults with college degrees in Southside, the only region of the state lacking a public university. Therefore, students at Patrick Henry and Danville community colleges are among those actively being targeted.

Blevins said NCI is working with community colleges to help their students have a seamless transition into programs at the institute.

Yet “we can’t market anything until we know what they (exact degree programs) are going to be,” she said.

NCI will give students opportunities to take some online courses, but on-campus courses will be emphasized, Blevins said. NCI wants students and instructors to have “face-to-face interaction,” she said.

Also Wednesday, the board learned that NCI aims to offer a degree program in entrepreneurship within a few years.

Dorsey said VCU is considering developing the program, which would have two tracks — business entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship. The latter would be aimed at people interested in nonprofit work, he said.

State Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon and a member of NCI’s board, said James Madison University has an entrepreneurship center that could provide resources toward setting up the degree program.

But the center does not offer a degree in entrepreneurship, Dorsey noted. The closest university offering one is Western Carolina University, he said.

Offering an entrepreneurship degree would help NCI distinguish itself among higher education institutions and attract students from elsewhere, he added.


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