Regions Southern Virginia

NCI leader has a long history with organization

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Leanna Blevins was part of New College Institute before it became a state entity in 2006.  Now she leads NCI as its executive director.

Blevins, formerly NCI’s chief academic officer, had been acting executive director since 2015. She received her permanent appointment in December.

“I wanted to be part of building something new and different that would help transform the Martinsville community by providing opportunities for the people that live there,” she says in explaining how in 2004 she became involved in the educational initiative that led to the creation of NCI. “It’s not very often that you get a chance to build an organization from the ground up.”

NCI is a multi-university, higher-education center. It provides access to degree programs, certifications and other educational projects such as experiential learning opportunities. “We do that through partner universities. We don’t offer degrees ourselves,” Blevins says.

NCI has faculty in residence from universities such as Longwood, Averett, U.Va., James Madison, Radford and Virginia State. “Students come here to complete years three and four of their bachelor’s degrees and also their master’s degrees,” Blevins says. “We partner with the Virginia Community College System for the first two years of education.”

Nearly 400 students have completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees at NCI in the past decade.

Nationally, enrollment in post-secondary education is down. In fall 2016, overall enrollment declined 1.4 percent from the previous year, according to National Student Clearinghouse research data.

“Enrollment is down in our degree program, but it’s up in programs where you don’t have to commit to a degree,” Blevins says. “We expect programs such as certificate programs and endorsements will rise, and we will see a leveling off in degree programs.”

The main opportunity for NCI, she says, “lies in combining the best of traditional higher education with the best practices of inventive post-secondary offerings. We have a real opportunity to do some creative programs that will be relevant to what the commonwealth needs as far as employment.”

In addition to classroom courses, NCI offers online classes as well as hybrid programs with a mix of online work and video conferencing.  “We offer a variety of options,” Blevins says. “We are working with our university partners to give people ways to get access to education in smaller, bite-size pieces. That is our challenge and our opportunity.”

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