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Fluctuating figures

Overall enrollment rises, but numbers are down at some public universities

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Print this page by Robert Powell
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The University of Virginia College at
Wise had a 9.5 percent increase in
enrollment last fall. Photo courtesy UVA-Wise

Enrollment at Virginia’s public four-year colleges and universities turned up some mixed results.

Overall fall enrollment at the 15 schools was up slightly from last year, according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Nonetheless, seven showed declines from fall 2015.

Total enrollment at the schools stood at 215,677 last fall, up nearly 1,200 students from 12 months before.

The biggest increases occurred at University of Virginia College at Wise, up 9.5 percent; Norfolk State University, 6.1 percent; and George Mason University, 3.2 percent.

The biggest declines were seen at Longwood University, down 4 percent; Radford University, 3.5 percent; and Christopher Newport University, 2.5 percent.

The numbers barely changed from 2015 to 2016 at the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Military Institute.

Most private colleges and universities in the commonwealth have smaller student bodies. The exception is Liberty University in Lynchburg. It has Virginia’s highest enrollment, with 38,359 part-time and 35,317 full-time students for a total of 73,676.

Meanwhile, Virginia’s three private women’s colleges — Hollins University, Mary Baldwin University and Sweet Briar College — are going through transitions.

Mary Baldwin, which marks its 175th anniversary this year, has faced criticism from some alumnae because of its plans to begin a coeducational unit called University College. It would offer residential programs open to men and women after their junior or senior years in high school. Mary Baldwin, which changed from a college to a university last year, has campuses in Staunton and Fishersville plus 12 regional locations throughout Virginia.

Hollins, also 175 years old, will install a new president later this year. Nancy Oliver Gray, the president since 2005, plans to retire. She will be succeeded by Pareena Lawrence, the provost and chief academic officer at Augustana College in Illinois. Hollins is debt free and had an endowment of $160.8 million last year.

Sweet Briar also is getting a new president. In February, the school announced that Meredith Woo, a former dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia, will succeed President Phillip Stone in May. In 2015, Sweet Briar almost closed because of declining enrollment and financial difficulties. However, it was rescued by fundraising and legal efforts by its alumnae. (Virginia Business Publisher Bernie Niemeier is a member of the Sweet Briar board of directors.)

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