NCI: Partnerships won't end local control of institute

December 28, 2011

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Local control of the New College Institute (NCI) will not cease when fewer partner universities are involved next fall, according to an administrator.

Decisions related to the institute in uptown Martinsville will continue to be made by its board of directors, not the universities, said Associate Director and Chief Academic Officer Leanna Blevins.

For now, she said, “the three partners don’t want to run NCI. They fully expect our capable board and staff to manage operations and academic programs.”

Funded by the state and The Harvest Foundation, NCI offers local access to higher-level courses needed to earn certain bachelor’s and master’s degrees conferred by universities. Bachelor’s degree students must take freshman- and sophomore-level courses elsewhere, such as a community college.

Eight universities statewide now offer programs at the institute. Beginning next fall, Radford, Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) and Virginia State (VSU) universities will assume that responsibility — or at least most of it.

The move comes as NCI looks toward eventually becoming a branch campus of a state-supported university. If that occurs, the university would take over the institute’s operations.

Negotiations are continuing with the three universities as to what specific degree programs will be taught at NCI next fall, Blevins said.

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, according to Blevins. Those fields are based on the area’s economic needs.

Yet “there are some other programs we hope to offer that don’t fall neatly into those categories,” Blevins said, giving criminal justice and social work as examples. She said discussions are under way with each of the three partners about sponsoring such programs.

Blevins hopes that in early January, the institute will be able to finish the negotiations and announce the degree programs.

Negotiations are “going well,” she said, “but it takes a lot of time to get the right mix of programs and people” to teach them. She declined to elaborate.

The three universities eventually may offer degree programs in other fields, NCI officials have said.

Degree programs other universities currently are offering at NCI — such as a bachelor’s in business administration and a master’s in education from Averett University — will be phased out during the next few years so that students in the programs have time to finish earning their degrees. New students are not being accepted into those programs.

“We remain committed to our current students, and we want to give them the opportunity to complete the programs they’re in,” said Blevins, who will become NCI’s interim director when Executive Director Barry Dorsey retires Sunday.

Blevins did not rule out the possibility of NCI’s board contracting with other universities if new degree programs are needed and either Radford, VCU or VSU somehow cannot provide them.

“We are committed to a strong partnership” with those three universities, said Blevins, “But that doesn’t eliminate the potential” for partnerships with others, at least until NCI becomes a branch campus of one institution.

Dorsey said he thinks that will happen within the next two years.

With support from many members of the General Assembly and Gov. Bob McDonnell, and because NCI was more successful in its first five years than officials envisioned, he said, “I think we have the momentum.”

But “we have to demonstrate continued success” in meeting the needs of students and the community, Dorsey said. And, “we need to become better known” to some General Assembly members — especially those who are on the money committees — and their staffs, he said.


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