Four-year university proponents ask Accomack officials to commit land

Eastern Shore News, May 22, 2019

by Carol Vaughn

The president of a foundation seeking to establish a four-year university on Virginia's Eastern Shore have asked Accomack officials to consider committing land at the county industrial park in Melfa to the project.

A four-year university could grow to around 2,000 students and result in 1,000 jobs and up to $100 million per year in cash flow, according to the foundation.

Terry Malarkey, president of the University of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Foundation, told the Accomack County Board of Supervisors the group wants to recruit "a high-quality" Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Health university to set up a branch on the Eastern Shore.

"Getting a university in your town is a really good thing for the economics of your town. If you think about Blacksburg — what would that be without Virginia Tech? Wise County figured this out in the 1950s," Malarkey said, adding the University of Virginia's College at Wise "certainly could be a model for what we could do."

Terry Malarkey, president of the Eastern Shore of Virginia University Foundation, addresses the Accomack County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 in Accomac, Virginia.. (Photo: Staff photo by Carol Vaughn)

Terry Malarkey, president of the Eastern Shore of Virginia University Foundation, addresses the Accomack County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 in Accomac, Virginia.. (Photo: Staff photo by Carol Vaughn)

Malarkey said that if Virginia were to be considered and ranked as two separate education entities — the Rural Horseshoe and the urban corridor — "rural Virginia comes in 50th in the United States," while the urban section ranks second, behind only Massachusetts.

Combined, Virginia ranks sixth, he said.

"Richmond is starting to talk about being the best educated state in the nation, and one way of doing that is to pull up rural Virginia," Malarkey said, adding, "To do that, our idea was to have a four-year university here."

"Our model is UVa at Wise. Our dream is Virginia Tech on the Shore," Malarkey said. Setting up remote campuses is a trend among universities, he said.

The group presented a draft resolution which, if the Board of Supervisors approves it, would commit 200 acres at the Accomack Industrial Park to the project, with a 10-year deadline.

"One of the major reasons that universities are started in Virginia is somebody gave some land," Malarkey said, noting the county at the industrial park "has 200 acres of facilitized land sitting there for several decades, not assigned to anything."

The foundation in March send a proposal to Gov. Ralph Northam asking the at least one Eastern Shore resident be appointed to the State Council of Higher Education, which has 12 appointed members, and that a commission be created to explore potential for a four-year university on the Shore.

RELATED Shore University? Group steps up push with proposal to Gov. Ralph Northam

"I admire your vision," said Supervisor Reneta Major, adding, "I'm not saying that visions can't come to fruition."

Still, Major asked about potential enrollment, noting that Eastern Shore Community College has been struggling with declining enrollment.

Malarkey said analysis shows the community college numbers are "about where they should be," noting as the economy improved, people got jobs instead of enrolling in classes.

"As to having a four-year institution and a two-year institution in the same area, there has certainly been some anxiety here on the Shore about that — we hear that quite a lot," Malarkey said, but added, "But it's nothing new. Four-year universities and two-year universities have co-existed, cooperated and co-habited all through the Commonwealth — and I'm puzzled why it would be different here."

Students from outside the area, as well as local residents, could be attracted to a four-year university from outside the area, foundation board members have said previously.

The board took no immediate action on the foundation's request.

On Twitter @cvvaughnESN

443-260-3314

Terry MalarkeyComment