A group is working to create a university for Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

BELLE HAVEN- As Terry Malarkey tells it, the whole thing started because of Gov. Ralph Northam. 

“People were saying, ‘What can we ask the governor, who is from the Eastern Shore, to do for us?’ and I came up with the idea of a four year university,” Malarkey said. 

Malarkey is a retired electronics industry executive and president of the University of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Foundation (UESVF). That’s a nonprofit aiming to “Promote the establishment of a four (4)-year degree-granting University of the Eastern Shore of Virginia.”

Virginia’s Eastern Shore boasts just over 45,000 residents in the largely rural Accomack and Northampton counties. Malarkey says he recognizes that the region’s low population density is a challenge.

“We are not trying to create a four year institution here on the Eastern Shore solely with the student population that graduates from high school here,” he said. “That number is about 500 a year, so we don’t have the catchment area.”

No Competition on the Eastern Shore

Instead, Malarkey hopes the University would attract students from elsewhere in Virginia and beyond. The shore is already home to the Eastern Shore Community College (ESCC), and foundation treasurer Kris Marcy, a retired senior federal official, was quick to add that they didn’t intend to compete with the ESCC in any way.

In fact, she said the ESCC’s president, Dr. Jim Shaeffer, had expressed interest in developing a joint curriculum. That way, students could spend two years at ESCC and finish their four-year degree at the new university. “We think at the end of the day that we can both benefit hugely from a symbiotic relationship,” said Marcy

One of the options they’re pursuing is opening a local branch of an existing public university. They modeled the plan on the success of the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, established in 1954 in rural Wise County. According to Malarkey, that precedent has been key when convincing local leaders to support the plan.

“It turns out that students where they go spend a lot of money,” said Malarkey. “[UVA Wise] brings 1,000 jobs and up to $100 million in cash flow to that area.”

Seeking Support

Marcy said so far they’ve managed to arrange meetings with several university administrations.

“We met virtually with ODU, UVA, William and Mary, and with the provost of Virginia Tech,” she added.

But she said that while all were open to hearing the foundation out, there was one major stumbling block.

“They’ve pretty much uniformly said, ‘This is an expensive project you’re undertaking,’ so they haven’t jumped to the next step of saying, ‘And we want to help you’—with the exception of VCU,” she added.

Administrators from VCU did what no other university had: They traveled out to the Eastern Shore in person, touring the local community college. Then they offered some extra assistance. Executive MBA students at VCU will develop a business plan for the operation.

“We were very fortunate to be selected—and believe me, there were other candidates,” said Marcy.

The business plan, which will serve as a “capstone project” for the students, is being developed now, and MBA student Nicole McMullin says they’re treating the foundation like a client: “Ultimately, [the business plan is] for the foundation to use when they work on building their relationships. And really that’s with folks who ultimately have to make decisions on higher education in the state.”

Once that project wraps up, Malarkey says they’ll begin arranging meetings with state officials and University administrators once again—this time armed with a professional business plan.

“It’s even been suggested that this may be presented to the governor some time in the second quarter,” he said.

The executive MBA team is seeking public input on the prospects for a four-year university on the Eastern Shore through two surveys.

Jakob Cordes is a freelance reporter for Dogwood. You can reach him at info@vadogwood.com.

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