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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Virginia State U Looks To Double Its Enrollment

Virginia State University is reinventing itself.

The historically Black college of just under 5,000 students hopes to double its enrollment in upcoming months, diversify its largely Black student body and strengthen its image with new buildings, curriculum and staff.

The changes come as school attempts to become a destination for Southside Virginia and beyond.

“I believe in diversity. We’re not an isolated entity,” says Harold T. Green Jr., VSU’s rector, who acknowledged the school’s role in molding generations of Blacks.

The school has already taken several steps toward raising its profile as it approaches its 125th anniversary.

Over the past three years, officials have embarked on $87 million in new construction and renovations.

Academically, VSU has bolstered its liberal arts curriculum with computer science and nursing programs; a school of engineering is under construction.

VSU awarded its first doctorate this year in educational administration, and university officials want to start additional doctoral programs.

The university also wants to be more selective in the students it admits, while requiring faculty members to be accredited — the latter a requirement to continue receiving millions of dollars in state money provided through a civil-rights agreement.

School officials even want to change their address from Petersburg to the higher-profile Chesterfield County.

Officials say that will more accurately reflect the school’s physical location. And if a potential student or faculty member were to Google the area, the school would be connected with Chesterfield’s more favorable economic and demographic indicators.

That will be a boon both for the school and the county, according to Millard D. “Pete” Stith Jr., Chesterfield’s deputy administrator for community development and a former rector of VSU. The university sits in the Chesterfield village of Ettrick on a high bluff above the Appomattox River.

“Chesterfield believes that Virginia State is a crown jewel on its southern borders,” Stith says.

The university is playing catch up from decades of state underfunding during segregation.

Under the civil-rights agreement, the state has agreed to make up for the losses — but only if the school take steps that include becoming more diverse.

Today, 94 percent of the students are Black.

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