BRISTOL, Va. — Virginia Business College has hit the reset button with both its president and state certification.

Last Wednesday, the proposed school planned for the former Virginia Intermont campus in Bristol, Virginia, announced that Gene Couch has been named president, succeeding Randall Blevins, who was released in April.

In turn, Couch announced that the school has temporarily withdrawn from its provisional certification from the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia.

Couch, who formerly served as president of Virginia Highlands Community College in Abingdon, spoke with the Bristol Herald Courier by phone last Wednesday.

“This is a tremendous opportunity and pretty unique. It’s not every day you say we’re going to start a college,” Couch said. “Typically, we talk about what we do to get students ready for college. We’ve got the opportunity to get a college ready for students.”

The campus has been vacant since May 2014, when VI closed due to ongoing financial troubles, falling enrollment and loss of accreditation. The property was purchased at auction in December 2016 and is to be a division of U.S. Magis International Education Center, a Flushing, New York-based entity owned by Chinese educator and entrepreneur Zhiting Zhang.

The main entrance off Moore Street has been renamed Magis Private Drive.

Couch said the owners remain committed to the project.

Couch served as president of Virginia Highlands from 2014 to 2018. Following a report that was critical of VHCC leadership, Couch announced in October 2018 that he would retire June 30 but remain on campus through the fall semester. However, just days later, he was asked to vacate the campus by the chancellor of the Virginia Community College System, who said there were “important questions about the workings of the institution.” Couch was reassigned as special assistant to the chancellor.

He is an Abingdon native who previously served as executive vice president at Alamance Community College in Graham, North Carolina.

Couch withdrew the business school’s application from SCHEV — which granted provisional certification in March after a nearly yearlong process. However, that provisional certification put the school on an aggressive one-year schedule to complete repairs to campus buildings, obtain a certificate of occupancy, recruit and hire faculty and begin recruiting students.

“What we chose to do is voluntarily withdraw our application, which is a road map,” Couch said. “We took that opportunity to update the plan consistent with the change in leadership. What I’m working on now is resubmitting the application so it’s consistent with the plan going forward, the new plan, which would better reflect the direction of the college.”

Council spokeswoman Laura Osberger confirmed the withdrawal.

“Virginia Business College has withdrawn its previous application, meaning that its provisional operating certificate is no longer valid. If they decide to resubmit in the future, they will be required to begin the entire process anew,” Osberger wrote in an email.

The proposed school first submitted its application last summer and then underwent a comprehensive review before the provisional certification was granted in March.

Couch said he hopes to resubmit the application soon.

“We will fast-track that,” he said. “What was awkward was the timing. Once we get all these improvements made on campus, we have to get an inspection, a certificate of occupancy. The timing was really complicating with an August start date. It’s almost July, and we’ve been hustling pretty good to get things done. This will allow us to be more intentional in our efforts and advertise for students in a cycle that is more in line with what a traditional academic year would be.”

Work has been occurring on the Moore Street campus, including the installation of new roofs on some buildings, paving, infrastructure and other improvements. Plans still call for only using certain buildings, but most remain in good condition, he said.

Plans include offering targeted bachelor’s degrees with a focus on business in 16 areas of concentration.

Assuming the school again secures provisional certification, tentative plans are to begin offering classes in fall 2020, Couch said.

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dmcgee@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2532 | Twitter: @DMcGeeBHC | Facebook.com/david.mcgee.127

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