BRISTOL, Va. — Virginia Business College is now on the countdown clock in anticipation of opening for classes a year from now.
College officials recently resubmitted an application for certification by the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia and hope to gain preliminary approval this fall, school President Gene Couch told the Bristol Herald Courier on Thursday.
The college — which is being established on Virginia Intermont College’s former Moore Street campus — previously withdrew its approved application because it included an aggressive timetable that included classes beginning this fall.
“We voluntarily withdrew our application from SCHEV. … It allowed us to say, ‘Here is what we want to do and are going to do,’” Couch said. “The process has three stages or phases. Phase one is the initial application. Part two is very detailed, all the way to a catalog to develop policies and materials around that. We submitted that July 31. They [council] have meetings in September and October, and we are hopeful we’re on one of those and — hopefully at that point — receive provisional approval.”
Council spokeswoman Laura Osberger confirmed that the application has been received but said it’s not certain when it might appear on an upcoming council agenda.
The previous application was submitted last fall and received preliminary approval in March. Couch said he saw a “real problem” in trying to get everything in place so quickly.
If the school receives provisional approval, it can begin to recruit and fill management and faculty positions and begin recruiting students while completing repairs to campus buildings.
Couch said they opted not to resubmit the same application, instead submitting a new document with new plans and information.
Included is a list of the school’s recently appointed seven-member board of directors, chaired by Dale Cook of CSE Insurance in Abingdon.
Other board members include Connie Hearl, senior vice president of marketing and business development for Elevation Energy and Communications of Abingdon; Ken Heath, executive director of community and economic development for Marion; Stan Hickson, president of Ballad Health’s Southwest market; Chad Keen, president and CEO of Keen Promotions and a member of the Bristol Tennessee City Council; Jing Zhang, of ownership group U.S. Magis International; and Zhiting Zang, the college owner and principal of U.S. Magis International.
The private college intends to offer a bachelor’s degree in business with seven concentration tracks, including accounting, business analytics, entrepreneurship, human resource management, information technology management, management/leadership and marketing.
VI closed in May 2014 after losing its accreditation amid growing debt and sharply declining enrollment. The buildings have been empty since, but the campus has been a “beehive” this summer as workers strive to bring it back to life, Couch said.
“In the last three or four months we’ve been putting roofs on, putting windows in, working on electrical systems, and we’re putting in water now — bringing it back to life,” Couch said. “It’s a beehive of activity. Parking lots are essentially done.”
A fence is also being installed around the campus, and sprinkler systems have been upgraded as part of investments totaling $600,000 so far.
The new college intends to use seven existing buildings, including the library, the former science building, which is being renamed Blue Ridge Hall and will be the primary academic classroom building; the health and fitness center is the former gym; the renamed Commonwealth student center; the Holston Hall residence center and the former Harrison-Jones Auditorium is being renamed Bristol Hall.
The former president’s home across Moore Street from the main campus serves as the administration building.
Some of VI’s historic buildings, including Main Hall, won’t be used initially, but will remain and are being shored up with roof and other structural repairs. Couch said some of the college’s other real estate holdings may ultimately be used as well.
“We want to offer a private school education and a public school cost,” Couch said. “Our price point is lower than a typical private school and more in line with public colleges and universities.”
Couch said they don’t yet have a goal for the size of the first class and admitted recruiting to a new entity will be challenging.
“Here’s a complicating factor. Many students plan on federal financial aid,” he said. “You’re not eligible for financial aid until you receive your accreditation, which is SACS-COC [Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges]. SACS-COC, you’re unable to receive your full or provisional accreditation for about 3.5 years. So you’re up against it.”
The expectation is to primarily recruit students within a two-hour area, but the college might also become home to a number of international students.
“That will be an element of our recruiting plan. We would have a connection to China and if they [students] have ability and interest,” Couch said, adding that most Americans take the value of a degree from a U.S. school for granted. “Even with a bachelor’s degree in business, if you are an international student you have that, it sets you apart. … Internationally, it is recognized as a valuable credential.”
The school currently has but three employees, including its president, but they hope to have a number of vice presidents and other personnel in place by January.
It does, however, have school colors of purple and gray, which will soon replace VI’s black and gold.