Heather B. Hayes
The Martinsville-based New College Institute (NCI) was established in 2006 with the goal of becoming a freestanding institution that could provide higher education to Southern Virginia residents.
Nonetheless, a commission headed up by two former university presidents believes that the NCI would do better if it changed course. NCI already has exceeded expectations. It offers 10 bachelor’s and seven graduate degree programs through 10 public Virginia colleges and universities. One hundred thirty-five students have received degrees, and more than 400 students were enrolled in courses during
the 2009-10 school year.
The Martinsville-based Harvest Foundation sponsored a commission looking at NCI’s future. It was co-chaired by John Casteen, former president of the University of Virginia, and Eugene Trani, president
emeritus of Virginia Commonwealth University and a member of the NCI board. The panel recommended that NCI become a branch campus of a public university or college. “The current model as a
higher-education center can work but will not move NCI forward to the next level in assisting with regional economic development and educational attainment,” the commission said.
Barry Dorsey, NCI’s executive director, agrees with the recommendation. “There are a lot of reasons for it, but the most compelling one to me is the cachet that would become part of NCI if we were part of
an existing public institution, because we will need additional resources down the road to add more degree programs and continue to grow and meet demand,” he says, noting that his organization now has only nine full-time employees.
The commission report says that any university or college that partners with NCI would also benefit. NCI would offer a large potential customer base that craves educational opportunities. The partner
school also would benefit from a Harvest Foundation commitment to match up to $50 million any state funds used to expand higher education in the Martinsville-Henry County area.
An exploratory committee created by the commission will field any overtures from potential partners. NCI officials said a partnership proposal could be incorporated into a report sent to the State Council of
Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). SCHEV is scheduled to study NCI and make its own recommendation to the governor and General Assembly in 2012 about how the institute should be governed.
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