Studying student patterns

Enrollment continues to rise, but the rate of growth is slowing

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Print this page by Julie Rothey
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Regent University added 1,860 students last fall, an increase of 21.2 percent from the
previous year. Photo by Mark Rhodes

Total enrollment at Virginia’s colleges continues to grow, but the rate of growth has slowed since the end of the Great Recession in 2009.

The enrollment pattern may be the result of declining growth in the number of high school graduates. According to a recent report by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), the pool of potential college students is expected to remain relatively flat for the next few years.

That demographic trend is one of the challenges Virginia faces as it aims to become the nation’s best-educated state by 2030. That goal would require the portion of adult Virginians with a postsecondary credential, certificate or degree to increase from 51 percent to 70 percent. According to the SCHEV report, almost all the jobs created since the Great Recession will require workers to have more than a high school diploma.

The charts in this section provide an in-depth look at enrollment at Virginia’s public and private, nonprofit colleges last fall. Compared with fall 2016, all but three of the state’s 15 public, four-year colleges saw their enrollments rise. On the other hand, about half of the commonwealth’s private, nonprofit schools saw enrollment decline. A majority of the state’s 23 community colleges also saw enrollments decline during that time period. Community colleges typically experience an upswing in students during recessions as laid-off workers go back to school to retrain.

Looking at total enrollment at public, four-year colleges, Longwood University had the biggest percentage increase, up nearly 4 percent from the previous year. The Farmville-based school added 189 students. Fairfax-based George Mason University had the largest total enrollment among public, four-year schools in the commonwealth with almost 36,300 full- and part-time students.

Regent University led the pack in total enrollment percentage growth at the state’s private, nonprofit universities. The Virginia Beach-based school added 1,860 students from fall 2016 to fall 2017, a 21.2 percent increase. Lynchburg-based Liberty remains the largest college in the commonwealth with 75,044 full- and part-time students.

In addition to seeing fluctuations in enrollment, several colleges are undergoing leadership changes. The University of Virginia president, Teresa A. Sullivan, is retiring. She will be succeeded by James E. Ryan, the dean of Harvard Graduate School of Education.  His term starts Oct. 1, but the transition will begin this summer.

The College of William & Mary also named its first woman president.  Katherine A. Rowe will succeed retiring president W. Taylor Reveley III on July 1. She currently is provost at Smith College in Massachusetts, one of the largest women’s colleges in the United States. 

Norfolk State University also is looking for a new president after Eddie N. Moore stepped down for health reasons last year. Melvin T. Stith is serving as the college’s interim president.

Education charts

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