Mar 2, 2012

Are Northern Virginia Students Held to a Higher Standard?

Northern Virginians like to complain that the state college system is unfairly biased against residents of communities located in the state’s most densely populated areas.

In fact, the issue is high on the list of complaints state representatives hear during reelection campaigns, as parents are increasingly vocal about how difficult it has become for some of the area’s most talented students to be admitted to Virginia's highly-regarded public institutions.

“Within Virginia, it’s not harder to be admitted from region to region,” said Jeannine Lalonde, in her Notes from Peabody UVa admissions blog. “People in densely populated areas tend to worry about this the most.”

It may or may not be more difficult to be admitted to UVa from Northern Virginia, but for whatever reason, the percent of Commonwealth students attending UVa from this area appears tightly controlled and has remained remarkably flat despite huge growth in the region’s overall population.

In 1995, 48.2 percent of the Virginians attending UVa or 4206 out of 13,108 undergrads came from what the state defines as Northern Virginia, according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). By the year 2000, the NoVa percent of resident students dropped to about 43 percent—or 4053 of 13,712 undergrads—where it remained for the next eight years as the university continued to keep Virginians at about a third of the total.

Looking at these numbers from another perspective, the overall portion of NoVa students went down from 32 to 29 percent of UVa's undergraduate population from 1995 to 2009.

But from 2000 to 2010, the Northern Virginia region grew by more than a half a million people. The region’s population totaled 2.62 million in 2010, up from 2.12 million in 2000, reflecting an increase of 23.9 percent. In other words, Northern Virginia accounted for 54.9 percent of the total population growth in the Commonwealth for those years.Link

As a result, local school districts had to scramble to add new schools to accommodate the growing number of students attending the region's public schools.Link

And the growth shows no signs of stopping. In 2010, UVa’s own researchers predicted that enrollment growth in three Northern Virginia school districts—Fairfax, Prince William, and Loudon—would account for 85 percent of the state wide increase through 2015 while enrollment losses would occur in 53 of Virginia’s 132 school divisions.Link

Yet the percent of resident students attending the University of Virginia from the Northern Virginia region has remained exactly 45.6 percent over the past two years (30 percent of total)—down from the 48.2 percent reported in 1995. And without taking into account factors beyond residency, legislators representing other areas of the state feel this is more than a fair share.

As thousands of local students wait for admissions decisions due to be released shortly, it might be interesting to look at what the State says about
Northern Virginia’s representation at each of the Commonwealth’s 4-year public colleges and universities.

The following is based on information provided to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCEV) and reflects student residency classification as determined and reported by each institution in the fall of 2011:

  1. George Mason University: 84.2% ↓ (from last year)
  2. University of Mary Washington: 66.8% ↑
  3. College of William & Mary: 50% ↑
  4. University of Virginia: 45.6%
  5. James Madison University: 43.5% ↑
  6. Christopher Newport University: 40% ↓
  7. Virginia Tech: 39.9% ↑
  8. Radford University: 30.9% ↓
  9. Virginia Military Institute: 30.6%
  10. Virginia Commonwealth University: 29.7 ↑
  11. Longwood University: 25%
  12. Old Dominion University: 16.5%
  13. Virginia State University: 13.7%
  14. University of Virginia at Wise: 11.6%
  15. Norfolk State University: 7.2%

Out of 164,460 undergraduates enrolled for the fall of 2011 in Virginia’s public institutions, 39.5 percent of the in-state students or 53,031 came from the Northern Virginia region.

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