Manassas Journal Messenger | College variety widens horizons, choices

“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

For high schoolers and seasoned professionals alike, there are boundless possibilities for higher education in Virginia.

The choices go far beyond those you may be familiar with or the schools you typically read about on the sports pages.

Did you know that you can get a bachelor’s degree in software engineering from the University of Virginia’s College at Wise? Or that one school, Jefferson College of Health Sciences in Roanoke, offers programs exclusively in the health sciences, such as physician’s assistant, occupational and respiratory therapy, and fire and emergency medical services technology?

According to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, more than 400,000 students are stretching their minds and horizons in schools within the commonwealth. The vast majority, roughly 350,000, are enrolled in the state’s 15 public, four-year institutions and the 24 public, two-year community colleges.

Another 68,000 are learning in the 43 private, not-for-profit institutions, the 15 private, for-profit schools and colleges and the 44 out-of-state institutions operating in Virginia.

From state-supported residential colleges to private business and cooking schools, Virginia has a plethora of educational opportunities and venues, many with national reputations.

“Change does not necessarily assure progress, but progress inplacably requires change. Education is essential to change, for education creates both new wants and the ability to satisfy them.” Henry Steele Commager

Change is transforming Virginia colleges in subtle and spectacular ways.

The change is both physical and metaphysical from the addition of new buildings on at least two campuses to the addition of men at one all-women’s college and competitive football at another coed institution. It also includes the sprouting of an entirely new college entwined with the philosophy of Ayn Rand from a former resort in the rolling foothills of the state’s Piedmont region.

The changes have been welcomed for the most part but spurred in all cases by the notion that progress entails metamorphosis and innovation.

At the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, the first new undergraduate dorm in 17 years opened this fall. Jamestown Residences, as the four-story, $23 million complex is called, houses 386 students in two buildings that sprang up from Barksdale Field on Jamestown Road. Architecturally, it blends in with buildings on the historic campus.

The dorm is coed, with about 85 percent of the residents being upperclassmen. Ninety of the 238 rooms are singles. Mosaic tiles adorn the first floors.

“The students are very happy. It’s a beautiful building,” said Deb Boykin, W&M’s assistant vice president for student affairs and director of residence life. “It’s the first time in 40 years we’ve had all of our students on the central campus,” she noted, explaining that the Dillard housing complex, located 3 miles from campus, has been closed. No decision has been made on what to do with it.

Virginia State University in Petersburg plans to open a new, $20 million Engineering and Technology Building in early 2007.

The L-shaped, three-story brick building will contain 77,000 square feet dedicated to classrooms and laboratories for the mechanical and electronic engineering technology, computer engineering and manufacturing engineering programs, said Thomas Reed, VSU’s director of university relations.

The building’s 125-seat, tiered auditorium will have power and data ports at each seat.

Sweet Briar College, a private, women’s liberal arts college near Amherst, completed a 3½-year capital campaign in June which raised more than $110 million.

“Our Campaign for Her World,” as the fundraising effort was called, surpassed its goal of $102 million and garnered the support of 87 percent of alumnae.

As a result of the campaign, a former working dairy was converted into the Studio Arts Farm, a water treatment plant was turned into an environmental lab and nature center and a student commons complex was built.

The college, with an enrollment of 631, also has added an undergraduate major in engineering. It is the second women’s college in the nation to do so, said Dr. Jim Durand, director of Sweet Briar’s engineering program.

“Society is almost dominated by technology,” he said. “This will give liberal arts students an introduction into engineering.”

With classes having from five to 10 students, Sweet Briar’s engineering program offers a “very nurturing environment and hands-on approach” to learning, Durand said. “You study something and then go do it.”

For example, students are designing a water development project that they will build this summer in a small Guatemalan village.

“We want our graduates to see the big picture,” Durand said.

The program will graduate its first engineering majors in 2009.

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” William Butler Yeats

While Hollins University outside Roanoke has proclaimed 2006-07 as the “Year of the Uncommon Woman,” with a yearlong celebration affirming the single-sex institution’s 165-year commitment to educating women, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg will begin admitting men in Fall 2007.

The decision, made Sept. 9 by R-MWC’s board of trustees, bucks the school’s 115-year tradition of single-sex education in an attempt to stave off financial difficulties. Enrollment, currently 712, has been declining, along with the college’s $140 million endowment.

“It was a very hard decision,” said interim President Virginia H. Worden, an attorney who graduated from R-MWC in 1969.

Students boycotted the decision, and several alumnae groups have threatened lawsuits.

“I remind myself that the anger is because they love this institution,” Worden said.

She acknowledged that her own feelings about admitting men changed after she understood the college’s complete financial picture. “I went from total reluctance to excitement about the future,” she said.

Plans are to enroll 35 male students next year. Committees are working on all aspects of the transition, including a name change for the college, the addition of men’s sports teams and adjustments to dorm and campus life.

R-MWC is expected to stay in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, an NCAA Division III conference, which includes coed and single-sex schools. The school’s mascot, the WildCat, is expected to remain unchanged. Already, two men are among the 28 applicants for admission to the Class of 2011.

After a 60-year absence, football is returning to Old Dominion University in Norfolk.

The Monarchs will take to the gridiron in Fall 2009 as a Division I-AA program within its current conference, the Colonial Athletic Association.

“Everybody’s very, very excited about football coming back. It’s what a lot of people think of when they think of the college experience,” said Jennifer Mullen, ODU’s director of communications.

When Roseann Runte became president of ODU in 2001, “one of the things that kept coming up” when she talked with students, faculty and people in the community “was football,” Mullen said. Consultants determined there was enough student support and financial support to make a team viable.

Already, the university has hired football notables George Welsh, former coach for the University of Virginia and the Naval Academy, and Dick Sheridan, former coach at North Carolina State and Furman universities, as advisers for the transition. Plans are to name a head coach by early 2007.

The football program is starting with a major advantage: 20,000-seat Foreman Field. Built in 1936, Foreman Field will be refurbished for the new football program, Mullen said. Bleacher seats will be replaced with stadium-style, individual seats. New locker rooms will be added, along with training facilities, corporate skyboxes and parking.

No football team is complete without a marching band. That, too, will be added, Mullen said.

And to comply with federal Title IX requirements, ODU will add women’s crew in 2007-08, women’s softball in 2010-11 and women’s volleyball in 2014-15.

Some new sports facilities will be added to accommodate the new women’s sports, Mullen noted.

“My idea of education is to unsettle the minds of the young and inflame their intellects.” — Robert Maynard Hutchins

Many schools and colleges within Virginia have been recognized for their quality and curriculum in various polls and by numerous organizations.

For example, Patrick Henry College, a relatively new, private, Christian-based school with 300 students in Northern Virginia, has been named as one of the Top 10 conservative schools in the nation for the second year running by the Young America’s Foundation.

According to the foundation, PHC exemplifies in its philosophy and curriculum “an alternative to the liberal dominance on the typical American college campus by encouraging students in the study of conservative ideas and the conservative movement.”

The school, which attracts many home-schooled students, is located on 106 acres in Purcellville, about 50 miles west of Washington, and graduated its first class in 2004. Its five degree programs, in government, history, journalism, literature and classical liberal arts, are “grounded in a Biblical world view,” said David Halbrook, PHC’s director of communications.

The school stresses its apprentice and intern programs in Washington.

“Our interns have worked at the White House, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Labor, National Geographic, The Washington Times and for members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate,” said Halbrook.

PHC’s moot court teams won the national championship in 2005 and 2006, besting a team from Oxford University. In January 2006, PHC teams swept the American Collegiate Moot Court Association’s National Moot Court Tournament, winning first, second and third places, which was unprecedented in ACMA history.

The college plans to break ground before year’s end on a new, 106,000-square-foot Student Life Center. Long-range plans are to add a law school, Halbrook said.

A new school, Founders College, is set to open on a former Campbell County resort in Fall 2007 with 100 to 150 students in the first class.

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia has granted the college authority to operate under its plans as a private, for-profit liberal arts and business school on the 1,100-acre Merritt-Hutchinson Resort and Conference Center near Lynchburg.

Dr. Gary Hull, the college’s chairman and chief executive, is the director of the Program on Values and Ethics in the Marketplace at Duke University and explains the venture, which is largely born of his vision, as “a new approach to education.”

“It will be free of the propaganda” prevalent in higher education, “of the Christian proselytizing of the right and the diversity of the left,” Hull said.

Hull is affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute, which promotes the novelist-philosopher’s ideas of objectivism, which includes laissez-faire capitalism and rational self-interest while rejecting collectivism and altruism.

The curriculum will focus on the important ideas and events that have shaped civilizations. During the first two years, each course will build on the content of the last, giving students a deeper understanding of an “important body of knowledge everyone should have,” Hull said.

Students will leave with the ability to think independently, to make logical judgments and to write and speak clearly and eloquently, according to organizers.

Degrees in six majors will be offered philosophy, history, literature and art, liberal arts, economics and business.

Admission will be based on high school transcripts, course content, and teacher and counselor evaluations, Hull said. SAT and AP scores will not be considered.

The cost of attending will be about $30,000 a year, according to organizers.

Hull says the education at the former resort-turned-college will be “customer-oriented” students will have single rooms, each with its own private bath, and a culinary-institute-trained chef preparing meals.

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