Group Steps Up Push with Proposal to Gov. Ralph Northam
by Carol Vaughn, Salisbury Daily Times ~ April 15, 2019
A group making the case for founding a four-year university on the Eastern Shore of Virginia recently sent a proposal to Gov. Ralph Northam and other elected officials.
"We will try hard to make this an election issue," said Terry Malarkey, president of the University of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Foundation.
The group last year established bylaws and a board, elected officers, and created a website, www.eshoreu.org.
The foundation board of directors includes Malarkey; Kristine Marcy, treasurer; Ed Murdy, secretary; Kathy Boyd; Steve Boyd; Maureen Dooley; Parker Dooley; Karen Gravelle; Laura Mays; and Janet Rochester.
The 13-page proposal details benefits of establishing a four-year university on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
In it, the group also asks that at least one Eastern Shore resident be appointed to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia; that the state council "take the lead in revitalizing the 'Rural Horseshoe,' as recommended by Governor (Gerald) Baliles in his September 2018 speech;" and that a commission be formed to explore the potential for founding a university on Virginia's Eastern Shore.
Marcy said two state council of higher education board members' terms end in June.
The foundation has not yet received a response from the governor's office, Malarkey said.
The proposal cites the Eastern Shore's proximity to a chain of protected barrier islands and to industries at Wallops and in Hampton Roads that need highly trained workers as among good reasons to locate a university there.
"What we envision is an institution that emphasizes STEM-H (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) as well as Health Studies to support newly expanded hospital needs," it says.
The proposal cites former Gov. Gerald Baliles' Sept. 17, 2018 speech to the State Council of Higher Education and presidents of Virginia’s public colleges and universities, in which Baliles offered recommendations for reversing declines in the “Rural Horseshoe” — an arc encompassing the rural parts of Virginia that represents 75 percent of the Commonwealth’s geography — and where half a million people have less than a high school education, according to a Virginia Community College System website detailing an initiative to improve educational outcomes in those areas.
The area includes the Eastern Shore.
In Baliles speech, he called for “education and plenty of it; especially higher education in all its forms” in rural parts of the state.
The proposal says having a four-year university on the Eastern Shore of Virginia would bring economic and social benefits.
"Institutions of higher education can serve as economic engines and drive innovation for the surrounding communities by creating jobs, providing a well-educated and skilled workforce who acquire high-paying jobs in both the private and public sector, and developing innovative technologies that spark new businesses and start-up companies," it says.
Starting with a class of 100, a university could expect to generate $4.1 million in cash flow, based on current tuition costs at Virginia Tech, according to the proposal.
"For 2,000 students, we could realize over $80 million per year," it says.
The proposal cites authors James and Debra Fallows, who in their 2018 book, "Our Towns: a 100,000-mile Journey into the Heart of America," said proximity to a research university was among the traits characterizing communities that were successful in reinventing their economies and expanding civic engagement.
The proposal also cites statistics from August Wallmeyer's 2016 book, "The Extremes of Virginia," that show the Eastern Shore is losing population, while Virginia as a whole is growing; homes on the Shore are worth 2/3 of the statewide average; fewer residents are employed than the statewide rate; and the median household income is just slightly over half the state median income.
"Governor Northam issued a plan in 2018 for higher education that focuses on job, talent growth and entrepreneurship goals. On the Eastern Shore, as part of the Rural Horseshoe, achievement in meeting these goals will falter unless a serious commitment is made to address the higher education needs," it says.
In a cover letter accompanying the proposal, Malarkey quoted from the governor's 2018 Plan for Transforming Higher Education: “Higher education is the lynchpin of the New Virginia Economy, producing a return on investment greater than any other public investment. In fact, each dollar spent on Virginia’s public higher education system produces $21 in greater gross state product and returns $1.92 to the commonwealth’s treasury.”
"We want the Eastern Shore to be part of the 'New Virginia Economy,'" he wrote.
The letter seeks officials' support in introducing legislation to establish a university on the Eastern Shore in the next legislative cycle.
Foundation members presented the group's plan to the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission and had its action plan adopted as one of its projects. They also presented the plan to the Accomack County Economic Development Authority and are speaking about it to civic organizations in the upcoming weeks.
The foundation's work to date has been supported by donations from around 50 supporters.
Among the priorities is getting a proffer of land on which to locate the university, Malarkey said — noting that a gift of land was what helped get the University of Virginia at Wise started.
"That really showed that the county was serious," he said, adding that the Accomack Industrial Park in Melfa has"fully facilitized" acreage that could be used for a higher-education institution.
Alternatively, a private land donor could be sought, he said.
UVa-Wise, in rural southwestern Virginia, was founded in 1954 with 109 students and is cited by the Eastern Shore group as a model for how a similar institution could develop on the Shore — and how it could boost the local economy.
A 2016 study found UVa-Wise contributed $84 million to Virginia’s economy and had a $64 million overall economic impact on the seven surrounding coalfield counties and the city of Norton in fiscal year 2015.
"It would be hard pressed to think of too many other things that could bring in that kind of revenue to the Eastern Shore," Marcy said.
Board members have begun reaching out to state and local officials as well as community members to spread awareness of their aspirations.
"We have gotten loads of advice," said Marcy, adding, "Probably the best part of this project has been our ... beginning awareness, an appreciation, for all the people on the Shore who actually have education and administration backgrounds — I personally am excited about that."
A university would provide a way for Eastern Shore residents to pursue a four-year degree close to home — but it also could attract students from around the nation and even the world, they said.
A university also could complement Eastern Shore Community College, they said.
"We'd like to help them; we'd like to partner with them," Marcy said.
"All across the Commonwealth, 4-year universities and community colleges co-habit, co-operate, and co-exist. There is no reason to think that this would be any different on the Shore ... Ours is not an 'either-or' proposal: both institutions are needed on the Shore," the proposal says.
"There are different roles — the British term is (different) 'catchment areas,'" Malarkey said.
While the hope is to pursue the dream of a university on the Eastern Shore in conjunction with the county and the state, "if we can't do this through the commonwealth, through the county, we'll keep pushing — we'll find another way," Malarkey said.
"I want them to feel that Shore U is inevitable."