A New Virginia Four-Year College?
Anyone who’s been to Martinsville and Henry County knows the awesome pride of the folks there. Nobody works harder than Martinsville workers, who traditionally worked in textiles, and nobody is willing to work harder for a brighter future.
In recent years, the area has been crippled with Virginia’s highest unemployment rates. One of the few bright spots has been the New College Institute.
NCI was originally founded in 2004 by then-Lieutenant Governor Tim Kaine and a bipartisan coalition of state and local officials and a $50 million donation by the Harvest Foundation of the Piedmont. In 2005, Governor Mark Warner and the General Assembly appropriated over $1 million to an assessment of needs. The next year, Tim Kaine (now Governor) signed a bill establishing New College Institute with an initial appropriation of $2.5 million. 100 students were enrolled in a pilot program of six bachelor’s degree completion and master’s degree programs.
Since then, NCI has grown substantially. Last year, 17 academic degree programs and four teacher education or certificate programs were offered to over 400 students.
The question is what happens next.
If done right, NCI could become a new four-year college inVirginia, leading to increased R&D and new employment opportunities in Southside. In the past, some have even suggested a Southside University is in the works. There is recent news that this vision might be gathering powerful fans in Richmond. Today, an article appears in the Martinsville Bulletin quoting Joe Marolla, the vice provost for instruction at Virginia Commonwealth University (a potential sponsor of a new college):
Based on conversations they had with local educators and community leaders, he said, “I think what they want” ultimately is a four-year university presence in Martinsville.
“They want more than people just coming and going” each day, Marolla said. “They want students to identify with something here” so they will stay in the community and help boost the local economy. Having NCI affiliated with a single university would “help students see it in the way they do other colleges,” he said.
It’s by no means definitive — Marolla said a four-year school would be “down the road” — but these signs of enthusiasm are promising.
In 2009, I visited NCI — in a couple of buildings just off Martinsville’s beautiful and historic main square - and spent some time with Sammy Redd, NCI’s outreach director.
Sammy has a great story — a Martinsville native, he graduated from Yale University. Most Yale graduates would be drawn to the big cities. But Sammy decided to come home and apply his education to make a difference. I was deeply impressed by Sammy’s passion, sense of humor, and dedication to bringing Martinsville back, and shared his enthusiasm that NCI could play a key role.
Virginia’s educational ambition has always been unbounded and universities like James Madison University have transformed areas like the Valley. It’s time to bring that sort of ambition to Southside.