One Room University celebrates its fifth year
The One Room University, located in the upstairs portion of City National Bank in Marlinton recently held an open house for anyone interested in learning more about this unique alternative educational experience. The ORU is a partnership between New River Community and Technical College, the Pocahontas County Commission and City National Bank.
The President of New River CTC, Dr. Marshall Washington and Site Coordinator Elaine Diller were on hand to talk about the ORU. Dr. Washington took over the presidency of New River in March of 2013, two years after the opening of the ORU. His support for the project was clear as he spoke about it.
“Well I’m up here today to continue to share the story about the One Room University that we’ve had in partnership with the bank and the county commission and want to share that story that this is really a success story,” he said, “even though I think we’re still kinda of in our toddler stage of this partnership. But it certainly is a flourishing partnership and that we have a number of students who have been able to benefit from having the services available in one of the most rural counties that we serve.”
The ORU began as a dream by then Pocahontas County Coordinator Jay Miller who envisioned better accessibility to higher education for residents of Pocahontas for whom, for various reasons, a 2 or 4 year college degree was not in the picture. Working with City National Bank for the location, and New River to provide the instructional needs, he and others persuaded the county commission to also kick in some funding to get the institution off the ground.
It’s obvious by the growing student population that the ORU is a benefit to the students. But what does New River get out of the partnership?
“I think what we get out of it is the ability to continue to advance our mission and that’s being able to provide accessible education in another region and making sure we’re meeting the workforce needs,” he said. “ So that’s what we get out of it, being able to service people in the community so they can stay and work in their community that they want to be in.”
Elaine Diller, who’s been with the project since the very beginning, said every semester brings a whole new group of students.
“Every semester it changes!” she said. “Say, two years ago we had students coming in and it was right at our peak, and they were coming out of high school and taking developmental courses. Or they were coming from a 4 year college where it was too far away, and too expensive and so they would come home.”
“We’ve just seen a whole group of them go through 4 semesters of their developmental and then their college level math and English and have gone on to other programs or have graduated. From conversations going on today it sounds like we’re going to be renewing relationships with the high school to get that going again so that we’re working more closely with them; then we can guide them to where they need to go.”
Thanks to New River and Frontier Communications, the ORU is able to make use of IVN or an Interactive Videoconferencing Network to connect students at the Marlinton location with instructors at the various campuses of New River as well as offer online courses.
New River CTC is a two institution, but also has partnerships with many 4 year state institutions for those who want to continue their education.
“It is not through all the state universities, it is through a majority of them,” said Washington. “We have a great agreement with Bluefield State College, we just signed a new agreement with Marshall University this past summer. In addition we just signed a new agreement with West Virginia State University and we’re working right now on comprehensive agreement with Concord University, and we actually have agreements that have been signed in the past for University of Charleston.”
Dr. Washington said New River has also signed reciprocity agreements with schools across the state border such as Dabney S. Lancaster Community College that will allow West Virginia students to attend those schools for the same state rate as Virginia students.
“It’s not just about New River, it’s about the student,” he said. “What does [sic] our students need in order to graduate and get a credential and be able to be in their community.”
The ORU also remains the only site of its kind in the New River system. Dr. Washington said while they’ve been scouting for a second ORU location, finding a similar partnership has been more difficult. The fact that the ORU has yet to become self-sustaining, let alone make a profit, hasn’t helped. But Dr. Washington said there’s more to this than just a bottom line.
“That is a concern, but I will tell you that is not our biggest concern,” said Dr. Washington. “Our biggest concern is just making sure that we are hitting and meeting all our costs, our hard costs. There’s some things that yes, we probably can’t recover, but it’s great to see that this has grown and we want to continue to move forward with that.”
Diller agrees that you need to look at the larger picture.
“What I’d like people to understand is that a lot of the students we have here, not all of them are people that want to invest back into the community with their own skills that they’ve gained through a college education, they will be taxpayers and they will be giving back to the county one by one.”