Southside citizens resoundingly endorse 4 -year college for Martinsville

October 28, 2004

October 28, 2004
By Mike Allen
The Roanoke Times
COLLINSVILLE - One after another, the speakers all said the same thing: Bring us a four-year college.

"I've looked into the faces of children whose parents lost their jobs," said Susan Aaron, 42, of Martinsville, a former Pittsylvania County schoolteacher who burst into tears as she spoke. A four-year college will bring in businesses, she told representatives of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia at a public hearing Wednesday. "We need the university here." Emily Beard, 10, a student at Albert Harris Intermediate School in Martinsville, said that she wants to go to college when she grows up but also wants to be near her family. "With a college in Martinsville, I would not have to choose between the two," she said.

Wednesday's hearing, held at Patrick Henry Community College, was one of three hosted by SCHEV as part of a study as to whether a new public, four-year college is needed in Southside Virginia. The first hearing was Tuesday in Danville; the third will be today in Richmond.

State officials have pondered the possibility of such a college since 1999. But the issue revived in earnest in January. After Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine said that he would push for legislation to study building a four-year college in Southside Virginia, a Henry County/Martinsville nonprofit foundation used its financial might to turn a campaign promise into a proposal with teeth.

Created in 2002 using funds from the $150 million sale of Memorial Hospital of Martinsville and Henry County, the Harvest Foundation has a mission to improve quality of life in the economically struggling Henry County-Martinsville area. The foundation responded to Kaine's proposal by offering $50 million toward the college if it's built in Henry County or Martinsville.

In June, the foundation further upped the ante by hiring Ronald Carrier, retired president of James Madison University, to plan the proposed college, now referred to as the New College of Virginia. Under Carrier, the New College plans have become more detailed. The proposal now outlines an institution in downtown Martinsville that would offer bachelor's degrees after 28 months of courses that use the Internet and distance learning techniques.

A new twist to the region's quest for a university was introduced at Tuesday's hearing, as Longwood University officials offered up a rival proposal that involves a partnership among Patrick Henry Community College, Longwood and Old Dominion University. Students would attend the community college and earn bachelor's degrees through courses offered on that campus by Longwood and Old Dominion.

Discussion of both options continued at Wednesday's hearing. "The four-year institution is a necessity," state Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Henry County, told the SCHEV representatives. "If you had the best of all possible worlds, both options that are before you should be followed."

Wayne McWee, Longwood's vice president for academic affairs, told SCHEV officials that the new plan could get off the ground faster than the New College proposal and cost less. Spokesmen for the New College effort disputed cost figures cited by Longwood officials.

Speakers at Wednesday's hearing, including Henry County and Martinsville government and school officials, enthusiastically supported the New College initiative.

"We are very pleased and excited to hear the community's resounding support," said Leanne Blevins, vice president for students and community for the New College effort.

SCHEV Executive Director Daniel LaVista said that the council intends to present a report on its findings to the General Assembly by Jan. 12.



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