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Interest expressed in NCI
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Five public universities have expressed interest in the idea of making the New College Institute (NCI) in Martinsville a branch campus of their institutions, an official said Monday.
Eugene Trani, president emeritus of Virginia Commonwealth University and a member of NCI's board, is heading a four-member panel charged with evaluating affiliation possibilities for NCI. Although he confirmed the five universities' interest, he declined to name them, noting that talks are in the beginning stages.
Trani said he is "delighted" by the universities' interest, which he described as "good, strong interest."�
By expressing interest, Trani said, the universities are asking to learn more about NCI, and lots of information will be shared with them.
Meanwhile, the four-member panel - which is affiliated with The Harvest Foundation, which helps fund NCI - will want to learn about the universities' ideas for evolving the institute, he said.
An agreement for NCI to become a university branch campus would have to be approved by the institute's board and the board of the university in question, he said.
The process will "take months," Trani said. However, he said it might be possible to obtain a firm offer from a university by next January, when the 2012 General Assembly will convene.
Last November, the New College 2012 Commission, a group of educators and business leaders that examined options for NCI's future, issued a report suggesting that NCI become a branch campus of a state-supported university.
Harvest matches state funding for the institute, which currently provides local access to high-level courses needed to pursue certain bachelor's and master's degrees granted by universities statewide. Classes are taught by instructors who work for those universities.
The General Assembly ultimately will decide how NCI will evolve based on a recommendation that the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) is expected to make in fiscal 2012. That budget year will start July 1.
Area officials have said they expect SCHEV's recommendation to have a major impact on the legislature's decision, and they think the 2012 Commission's recommendation will weigh heavily on SCHEV's recommendation.
Harvest Executive Director Allyson Rothrock, another member of the panel that will evaluate NCI's university affiliation possibilities, said she was aware Trani had sent letters to university presidents, inquiring about their schools' interest in NCI. She said she knew he had received some responses but did not know the details of those responses.
Martinsville City Councilman Danny Turner said Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling told him last week that four universities are interested in taking on NCI.
Based on what he learned from Bolling, Turner said he understands that the universities, despite their interest in NCI, are concerned about possibly having to redirect money away from their main campuses to fund a branch campus.
"That would be a drain on" the universities' resources, he said.
Trani said that should not be a concern. He said the intent has been for the General Assembly to contribute funds needed for NCI to become a university branch campus - with Harvest also contributing funds - "to make sure the universities don't have to" put their own money toward the effort.
Bolling could not be reached for comment, but his communications director, Ibbie Hedrick, said the lieutenant governor is planning a trip to Martinsville "at some point after the (legislative) session" to voice support for NCI becoming part of a university and to "continue discussions" on its future.
A date has not been scheduled, but Hedrick said it likely will be "in the spring." She did not know if Gov. Bob McDonnell will accompany Bolling.
Attracting a university to Martinsville now is "more important than ever," Turner said, citing 2010 Census figures showing the number of children and teenagers in the city and Henry County has dropped in the past decade.
Many local young people who leave the area to go to college do not return after they graduate, officials have noted. Having a local university could entice young people to remain in the community after high school, Turner said.