Special to the Mirror By Karen Gravelle
A local group has formed The University of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Foundation to promote 4-year college on Virginia’s Eastern Shore; it is anticipated it will evolve into a full university granting post-graduate degrees.
In addition to the educational advantages for students on the Shore, a 4-year institution would provide tremendous benefits in other ways, including a greater awareness nationwide of the unique attractions of the Eastern Shore, well-paid jobs, expanded cultural activities, and the increase in spin-off businesses and enhanced real estate values that will accompany the influx of people and money from the rest of Virginia, other states, and other countries.
As the group (started by Terry Malarkey of Onancock) points out, despite the presence of NASA Wallops Flight Facilities and Space Port in Lower Delmarva and the shipbuilding industry in the Hampton Roads, there is currently no nationally renowned, focused, engineering school within easy access. The proposed university will focus specifically on STEM-H (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Health) in order to take advantage of the well-paid employment opportunities in those areas.
While the establishment of a 4-year institution of higher learning on the Shore may seem like an up-hill battle to some, rural areas with far fewer advantages in terms of location and attractions have managed to do so. One example is the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, VA. The group asks, “If they can do it? Why can’t we?”
Malarkey says that the idea of a 4-year institution here on the Shore has met with much optimism, but some skepticism too, particularly as regards the Eastern Shore Community College.
In replying to the concern that the presence of a 4-year school would eventually spell the end of ESCC and its Workforce Development Center, Malarkey responds, “Absolutely not. The two forms of higher education serve very different purposes. Not everyone needs or wants a 4-year degree, and the option to transfer would be open to ESCC students who wish to complete their undergraduate studies right here on the Shore.”
The decreasing enrollment at ESCC has raised the question of the viability of a 4-year university. However, that drop in enrollment is due to several factors: ESCC students come from only our 2 Eastern Shore counties, both of which continue to experience a shrinking population; increased employment rates have traditionally resulted in decreased enrollment; and dual enrollment, which permits students to take college courses while still in high school, has removed some of the incentive to complete a full 2 years at a community college. In contrast, a 4-year college offering the right courses and affiliated with an established university, such as Virginia Tech, will attract students from other counties, other states, and other countries.
For more information on the proposed “Shore U” and how to become involved, see the Foundation’s website at: www.EShoreU.org