NCI wants more active role in state higher ed

December 5, 2014

The New College Institute (NCI) wants to be a more active participant in affairs of Virginia’s higher education system. 

Innovative, technology-focused educational and training programs that NCI has developed in its eight years of existence have helped attract companies to the Martinsville area, state officials who visited the institute on Thursday learned. Also, more than 340 students have earned college degrees.

Yet within state circles, it seems that NCI often is viewed as “the stepchild of higher education,” NCI Associate Director and Chief Academic Officer Leanna Blevins told the visitors. 

“We want to be part of the game,” such as by having “an active voice” on panels that help determine higher education policies, Blevins said.

She made her comments after state Education Secretary Anne Holton asked how state officials could help NCI, other than by providing it more funding. 

That is not likely to happen considering that NCI — like other state agencies — had to take a 5 percent budget cut this fiscal year, Holton indicated.

However, it is “a given” that the state will continue funding NCI, she said. 

Other visitors included Deputy Education Secretary Dietra Trent and State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) officials.

They did not react to Blevins’ comments but after touring NCI and learning about its programs and activities, as well as its new building on the Baldwin Block, they said they liked what they saw. 

Everything is “pretty impressive,” Holton said.

Various NCI staff and faculty members made presentations about the institute’s programs, facilities and activities. 

NCI provides local access to higher-level courses toward certain bachelor’s and master’s degrees conferred by partner universities. Those degrees are ones needed for career opportunities, such as teaching, that have been determined to be in high demand locally and statewide.

Among the institute’s other programs are the Academy for Engineering and Technology and the Center for Advanced Film Manufacturing, which prepare students for jobs with local high-tech industries. 

Students learn on the same types of equipment used by companies, which has helped the area lure companies such as Kilgour Industries, an aerospace firm that plans to build a plant in the Patriot Centre industrial park, said NCI Executive Director William Wampler.

“The governor’s dependent on you to bring industry to the commonwealth,” SCHEV board member G. Gilmer Minor of Richmond told Wampler. 

It is important that students get “real world” learning experiences, Holton said.

Minor added that he was impressed with partnerships that NCI has formed with universities as well as Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC). He suggested that Wampler write a book on how to develop partnerships. 

Many of NCI’s bachelor’s degree students take their first two years of courses at PHCC, which also is a partner in the advanced film center.

“Your relationship with the local community college is exemplary,” Holton told NCI officials. She indicated that such partnerships are needed in other places statewide. 

SCHEV board member Gilbert Bland of Virginia Beach said he was impressed with NCI’s outreach efforts that enable students to learn about their higher education options.

“Most (higher education institutions) don’t do” such outreach, Bland said. 

The state education officials also toured the Piedmont Governor’s School, which is in NCI’s new building. While there, they learned about research that students in Nina Huff’s class are doing.

Many former governor’s school students have said they would not have succeeded in college if they had not taken that class, Wampler said. 


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