Thomas Nelson provost details recent strides at business luncheon

Staff writer

Patrick Tompkins, provost at Thomas Nelson Community College’s Historic Triangle campus, spoke to members of the city’s business community about the work being done to better serve the college’s student base at the EDA’s roundtable luncheon Tuesday.

Tompkins, who stepped into the position in September, comes from a background as an educator and was previously the college’s dean of communications, humanities and social sciences. He said Thomas Nelson strives to bring affordable, quality education to its students, who will go on to shape the area’s economic landscape.

“The cool thing about my job is, we change lives,” Tompkins said. “That’s what I get up in the morning to do, is to change lives, and in doing so, we enhance the Peninsula.”

Across its campuses in Lightfoot and Hampton and at a workforce center in New Town, Thomas Nelson serves around 12,000 students, with 2,000 at the Historic Triangle campus. Tompkins said around 50 percent of enrolled students receive financial aid, and paid $160.20 per credit hour in the current academic year.

According to a study commissioned by the community college, Thomas Nelson has an annual economic impact of $330 million in the region, and creates 6,500 jobs.

The community college also works to break down barriers toward academic success by offering free alternatives to otherwise costly textbooks and class materials. Tompkins said Thomas Nelson offered 265 course sections this past semester that used open education resources, meaning that materials for the courses were all either not copyrighted or in the public domain and could be used freely.

“Some of our disciplines are all OER, one is economics which has one of the most expensive textbooks on college campuses,” he said. “By using open education resources, we’ve saved our students over $1 million and counting. We have whole degrees that you can get without ever buying a textbook.”

Tompkins said the community college is also working to aid its students who are facing financial and food insecurity across its two campuses. The food pantry at the Thomas Nelson Hampton campus serves more than 400 students per month, he said, and anticipates that the recently opened food pantry at the Lightfoot campus will help the student population have easy access to basic necessities.

“One of the things that I think is surprising to many folks about our college population — and this not just true of Thomas Nelson, this is true nationwide, particularly in community colleges — is the tremendous financial insecurity and need,” he said. “We have these grown folks who are in college who are going without food.”

The EDA business roundtable will reconvene on Jan. 8 for a presentation from Terry Banez, interim executive director of the Chamber and Tourism Alliance’s business council at the Williamsburg Community Building.

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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