Universities Look to Grow Partnership with NCI

Universities Look to Grow Partnership with NCI

MARTINSVILLE BULLETIN, April 5, 2017 –Longwood University wants to add new bachelor’s degree programs at the New College Institute (NCI) and Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) wants to become involved in engineering and technology programs there.

The universities expressed their desires to NCI’s board this week as part of the Martinsville higher education center’s evolution plans, which call for the institute to continue partnering with universities to offer degree programs relevant to improving Southern Virginia’s economy while emphasizing hands-on learning opportunities for students.

Like NCI, Longwood and VCU are state-funded schools.

Longwood, based in Farmville, currently is NCI’s predominant partner. At the institute, it is offering bachelor’s degree programs in elementary and middle school education and a bachelor’s degree program in social work, as well as a reading specialist endorsement certificate program for educators. It soon will offer a master’s degree in education program targeted at people interested in becoming school librarians as well as a library media education program, the institute’s website shows.

There has been talk about NCI becoming a branch of Longwood but that is not on the horizon. State and institute officials have cited reasons including state funding constraints and a decline in students pursuing higher education statewide. The institute also has expressed a desire to evolve into a unique higher education experience designed to entice students to Martinsville and retain ones already here.

Longwood is interested in adding at NCI a program enabling nurses with associate’s degrees to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing, as well as bachelor’s degree programs in business administration and criminal justice, according to Joan Neff, its provost and vice president for academic affairs.

She indicated that Longwood officials think those programs are needed to prepare Southern Virginia residents for jobs that regional employers have had a hard time filling.

For each program, Longwood would need to hire at least one full-time employee to serve as director, teaching faculty and student advisor, Neff said. Depending on the number of students they attract, the programs also might need at least another full-time faculty member and some adjunct faculty members, she said.

Adjunct faculty members typically are nonpermanent, nontenured instructors paid on a per-course or hourly basis. They generally do not earn as much as tenured professors, educational websites show.

Neff said Longwood might be interested in developing other degree programs for NCI.

Before programs are established, though, regional needs and student interest “must be thoroughly assessed,” she said, “and program sustainability must be assessed continuously.”

Responding to concerns put forth by NCI board member Weldon Hill, an associate professor of music at Virginia State University, Neff stressed that although students in new programs would get academic advising at the institute, their financial aid needs would be handled in Farmville, at least initially.

Financial aid matters can be handled by phone, said Ken Copeland, Longwood’s vice president for administration and finance.

Students at NCI earn degrees conferred by the universities overseeing academic programs there. The institute itself does not grant degrees.

Copeland, who grew up in the Martinsville area, said Longwood considers its students at NCI to be just like its students in Farmville and tries to incorporate them into activities at its campus there.

At the least, Copeland said, the university holds an annual luncheon for them in Farmville and buses them there and back. That shows them “they’re not stepchildren,” he said, and enables them to meet and get to know faculty and staff members there who they communicate with by phone and email.

Longwood strives to make student transfers into the university’s programs at NCI “as seamless as possible” and support students as much as it can while they earn degrees, Neff said.

Based in Richmond, VCU currently has no programs at NCI. It has about 2,000 students at its School of Engineering, said Gregory Triplett, the university’s associate dean of graduate studies.

“Experiential (hands-on) learning is very key” to the education it provides its engineering students, Triplett told NCI’s board, adding that sets the school apart from engineering programs elsewhere, such as Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

“When students leave VCU, they’re ready to work in industry,” he said.

More VCU engineering students stay in Virginia to work after they graduate than their peers at other universities statewide, Triplett said to his understanding. However, he said he could not validate that.

Triplett said the university wants to be involved in NCI because “we believe there’s untapped potential down here” in Southern Virginia to create engineering jobs and have students fill them.

NCI Executive Director Leanna Blevins said the institute has talked with VCU officials about the university participating in engineering and cybersecurity (computer hacking prevention) programs.

However, the university first must assess NCI’s and Southern Virginia’s needs to determine how it should get involved at the institute, Triplett said.

Also expressing interest in somehow becoming involved in NCI were the Virginia Manufacturers Association (VMA) and the Wendell Scott Foundation.

The VMA runs the Virginia Manufacturing Skills Institute, which offers training and certifications in careers such as manufacturing technicians and specialists and industrial safety, according to its website.

One possible way that they could get involved at NCI, officials said, is by sponsoring summer camps for area youth to spark interest in manufacturing careers.

VMA President and Chief Executive Officer Brett Vassey said most manufacturing jobs today require “middle skills” for which certification – as opposed to a four-year degree – is needed. It takes 10 hours or less of classroom time to earn some types of certifications, he mentioned.

In many capacities, “manufacturing is not a dirty, sweaty job anymore,” said Victor Gray, executive director of the manufacturing skills institute.

The average starting compensation for manufacturing jobs in Virginia today is $45,000 annually plus benefits, Gray said. That is a lot better than what fast-food restaurant chains offer, he emphasized.

Named after NASCAR’s first African-American driver, the Danville-based Wendell Scott Foundation provides at-risk youth ages 8 to 18 educational and cultural enrichment programs as well as mentoring and science, technology, engineering and math-oriented job skills training.

Warrick Scott, the foundation’s chief executive officer and Wendell Scott’s grandson, said a car in the upcoming animated movie “Cars 3” is modeled after his grandfather. He said he is striving for a premiere of the movie to be held in the Martinsville area and to have people involved in making the film speak to young people.

Those things could be used to draw attention to NCI, he said.