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George Lyle

Friday, January 4, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Enrollment at the New College Institute (NCI) has risen for the first time in three years.

Figures presented to the institute’s board Thursday show 295 students were enrolled for the fall semester, up from 250 at the same time in 2011.

It also is up from a total of 282 students who were enrolled at some point during the 2011-12 academic year, records show.

Funded by the state and The Harvest Foundation, NCI offers local access to higher-level courses needed to earn certain bachelor’s and master’s degrees and other credentials from various universities statewide.

So far, 281 people have earned degrees through NCI. Officials have said the institute has been more successful its first six years than they envisioned.

But enrollment declined in recent years. Figures show a total of 413 pupils attended NCI during the 2009-10 academic year. That number fell to 327 in the following year, then to 282 in the past year.

Officials have said the enrollment drops could have been due to uncertainty among prospective students about NCI’s future. Efforts to make the institute a branch campus of a university have been placed on the back burner due to state economic constraints.

The recent jump in enrollment could be due to new academic programs and working with Patrick Henry Community College to ensure students there have a seamless transition into NCI programs, according to Associate Director and Chief Academic Officer Leanna Blevins.

Because of its small size, NCI is “nimble enough ... to change on a dime” and quickly add degree programs and drop ones not in demand, Blevins said.

That is unlike universities, which usually are not able to alter their academic offerings as fast due to bureaucracy, she said.

Weldon Hill, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Virginia State University and a new NCI board member, agreed.

Of NCI’s 295 fall semester students, 66 were full-time and 229 were part-time. Generally, higher education institutions consider students to be full-time when they take 12 or more credit hours of courses in a semester.

There were 212 undergraduate students and 83 graduate students during the fall semester, figures show.

Also Thursday, the board found out that site preparation has begun on the Baldwin Block in uptown Martinsville, where the institute will build a 50,000-square-foot building that will become its headquarters and host technology-based academic programs such as advanced manufacturing.

It is “quite exciting” to see heavy construction equipment at work on the vacant block, said NCI Executive Director William Wampler.

Dewberry, an architectural and engineering firm in Danville, is expected to finish preparing construction drawings in February. Construction bids will be accepted in early March. A contractor will be hired around mid-March, and construction should begin soon thereafter, according to Wampler.

NCI has obtained $13 million toward the estimated $15 million cost of the building. The Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission has contributed $5 million. The Harvest Foundation will provide $8 million if the New College Foundation — the institute’s private fundraiser — can raise at least $1.5 million.

Fundraising efforts have been “very successful ... and we’ve exceeded our benchmarks” for the current stage of the campaign, said NCI Development Officer Debbie Lewis.

Institute officials would not say exactly how much has been raised so far, basically out of concern for jeopardizing the campaign.

However, Lewis said she thinks people realize that NCI needs the building to grow and provide academics that the community needs to prosper.

The board also:

• Elected new officers and welcomed its two new members.

George Lyle, attorney for Henry County, now is chairman. Mark Heath, the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.’s president and CEO, is the new vice chairman. Local businessman Jay Edelen is the new secretary.

Along with Hill, retired local banker and former Martinsville Uptown Revitalization Association executive director Marshall Stowe joined the board.

• Learned that the institute recently received a clean audit of its finances.

• Found out that NCI is sharing some workers with other local institutions.

For instance, Barbara Waldron, previously NCI’s coordinator of recruitment and information, now is working at Patrick Henry Community College as its advising and articulation liaison. At the college, she makes sure students have a seamless transition into NCI programs, Blevins said.

The Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce has begun sharing its marketing and communications manager, Autumn Morris, with NCI. Morris is helping coordinate the institute’s internship program, said Blevins.

NCI is sharing salary expenses for the joint employees, she added.

While NCI has a lot of work that needs to be done, it is a relatively small higher education institution and does not need many full-time employees, according to Blevins.


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