SCHEV: No doubt of need for university

October 31, 2004

Bulletin Staff Writer

There appears to be "no war going on" between Southside localities over the location of a new university, said state Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Ridgeway.

Looking back at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) meeting on the university Tuesday in Danville, Reynolds said it was significant that no one there raised the issue of whether the college should be established anywhere other than Henry County and Martinsville.

For its part, SCHEV concluded after the meetings in Danville, Martinsville and Richmond that a four-year college is needed in Southside.

The question, however, is how a college can be established in the best interest of all of Southside within the current state budget restraints, said James Dyke, SCHEV board member.

At last week's meetings, several local government, business and educational officials, as well as area residents, spoke in favor of the New College of Virginia proposal sponsored by The Harvest Foundation.

That proposal, along with one by Longwood and Old Dominion universities and Patrick Henry Community College, was presented in the Danville session.

The Harvest Foundation proposal -- presented by Dr. Ronald Carrier, the man tapped by foundation to establish a baccalaureate-granting institution in the local area -- breaks from the traditional four-year college model. It offers degrees in 28 months based on an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. class schedule 10 months of the year.

In contrast, the Longwood-Old Dominion-Patrick Henry Community College proposal would have students complete their first two years at the community college and their final two at Longwood or ODU, all on the PHCC campus.

Dyke declined to say which proposal he was inclined to endorse, saying instead there still is research to be done before making recommendations to the governor and the General Assembly by Jan. 12. However, he said he was sensitive to the need for the college to have an economic impact on a region devastated by global trade policies.

Carrier has touted not only plans for a baccalaureate institution in the area, but also establishing it in such a way as to maximize its economic impact on the area.

For example, Carrier has said he wants the college to start in uptown Martinsville. Locating the school in vacant or underused refurbished buildings could have a large impact on re-energizing uptown and stimulating business entrepreneurs wanting to capitalize on the college, he has said.

Harry Cerino, executive director of The Harvest Foundation, said on Friday that Carrier and his group also are considering such ideas as giving students maintenance credit cards funded with part of their tuition which the students could use in selected restaurants the community if they did not want to eat in the college cafeteria. It is a program used by George Washington University in Washington, D.C., he said.

Moving to give New College of Virginia an immediate national presence, Carrier said he and his staff also are making plans to develop a relationship with the U.S. military.

"When the 125,000 troops return from Iraq, many are going to want to go to college," he said. "And they may not want to take the four or five years it takes to complete the traditional colleges."

On Friday, Dan LaVista, executive director of SCHEV, said that in addition to public input, SCHEV would look at student choices in selecting a college or university, population distribution, student demographics and other factors in making its recommendation on where to locate a new college.

The meetings were highlighted by a standing-room-only turnout at PHCC on Wednesday and a pledge of a $250,000 endowment and the former Tultex building on Franklin Street for the New College of Virginia by businessman George Lester on Thursday.

Reflecting on the meetings in which many residents spoke of the level of undereducation of residents, the inaccessibility of a college education for many and the lack of job opportunities locally, LaVista said, "I think we certainly came away with a very respectful understanding of the cultural issues facing Southside -- and that kind of sensitizing is good."

The General Assembly commissioned SCHEV in January to look at establishing a four-year college in Southside. Reynold said on Friday that if SCHEV submits a report favoring a Southside college, it is too early to speculate on how readily the governor's office and the General Assembly would respond.

The state is dealing with difficult economic times in funding public schools and institutions of higher learning, but Gov. Mark Warner has been a strong supporter of Southside, said Reynolds. "If the governor puts it (funding for the college) in his budget in December, it will be a tremendous help."

To that end, Reynolds said local legislators and area officials have kept in contact with the governor and his office stressing the need for and support of The New College of Virginia.

On Friday, Carrier got more encouraging news that was in contrast to what Longwood officials said at the meetings about the New College not being eligible for state and federal grants until it is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

SACS officials phoned Carrier to say an institution could be granted candidate-for-accreditation status upon startup and be eligible for all state and federal grants available to fully accredited schools, Carrier said.

Carrier said he and his staff have been working with SACS and have invited it to become early partners in curriculum and resource development of the New College of Virginia so that "we can modify issues before they become troublesome."

Kim Adkins, executive director of the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce which had representatives speaking at all three meetings, said, "I thought this area showed a clear indication that it wants the creation of the New College of Virginia."

As a result of outpouring of support demonstrated in those meetings, Carrier and Cerino laughed and said that they are fueled with added motivation because they do not want to let the community down.


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