Today we are continuing our virtual tour of colleges across the U.S. to try to stretch your thinking about colleges that might be attractive to your child. We made our first stop in the Great Lakes region and our second stop in what we have nicknamed the “Southern Southeast” region. In this episode, we will head just slightly north.
As we have said from the beginning of our tour, we are looking at four-year colleges only, reasoning that students headed to a public two-year college are highly likely to go to one in their home state and are not, therefore, looking to leave their own geographic region—at least not right away. We also want to repeat that no college has asked us to spotlight it in our episodes and that no college has paid us anything to choose it. For better or worse, these are entirely our own choices.
It is certainly true that some of the colleges we are spotlighting will require that your child have very good high school grades and college admission test scores to get in. On the other hand, others will be a bit easier, especially if a college is looking for out-of-state students to enhance its student body’s geographic diversity. But, because each student’s profile of grades and test scores and activities is his or her own unique package, it will be up to you to look at your child’s high school record to see which colleges might be most appropriate.
Two general notes: First, when we talk about the colleges and universities in this episode, we are going to be talking about the main campus—that is, the one that most people associate with that institution—in those cases where an institution has more than one campus. Second, because enrollment figures are not necessarily comparable as reported by various colleges, you should use the figures we provide here just as an approximation of the actual campus enrollment, but one that is good enough to help you understand whether the student body is the right size for your child—roughly, small, medium, or really huge.
1. The Southeast Region
As we said in our last episode, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has divided the U.S. into eight regions, with each region’s covering four to 12 states. In our recent episodes, we have been looking at the Bureau’s Southeast region, which has 12 states. Because we thought that would be a lot of states to investigate all at once, we divided the Bureau’s Southeast region into what we called the Southern Southeast region and the Northern Southeast region. In our last episode, we finished up our tour of the Southern Southeast region. Today we will move on to the six states of the Northern Southeast region: Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia.
If you are one of our listeners from the West Coast or the Southwest, for example, I am going to guess that you have not considered almost any colleges in the Northern Southeast region for your child, with a rare exception. Perhaps you will reconsider after today’s episode about public colleges in these states or next week’s episode about private colleges in these states.
2. Flagship Public State Universities
Let’s start with the flagship public state universities in these six states. Each state has one, though some are better known nationally than others. They are all good schools, and most people would agree that two of them would be in anyone’s list of outstanding public universities. While these universities have smaller branch campuses in other locations in their states, it is the main location—that is, the flagship of each state’s public system—that we will talk about here because that is the campus that is most respected and most widely recognized, both in the state and outside the state.
Some of these flagship campuses attract students from far away states more often than others; at least two of the ones we are spotlighting today can be thought of really as national universities, annually drawing students from across the U.S. But for the others, an application from a student in New York is not so commonplace; in those cases, a New York student with decent, but not spectacular, high school grades and college admission test scores might have a real chance of being accepted. As we have said before, colleges like to have geographic diversity in the student body.
Let us repeat what we have said in other episodes about flagship campuses: They are the place to be, if you graduated from high school in that state. Why? Because they are relatively inexpensive, academically respectable, well regarded across the state and across the country, super-competitive in sports arenas, chocked full of student clubs and activities, within driving distance of home, and a social hub for high school classmates. So, these flagship campuses draw a large portion of the best high school students in the state, which understandably drives up the average high school GPA of entering freshmen. At one of these universities, where 80 percent of the students are residents of the state, the average high school GPA of entering freshmen was a 3.79.
So, what are these flagship campuses in the Northern Southeast region? They are the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville; University of Tennessee, Knoxville; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; University of Kentucky in Lexington; West Virginia University in Morgantown; and University of Virginia in Charlottesville. These universities are located in different kinds of settings—from picturesque small college towns to substantial cities—but they have some things in common.
One thing they have in common is that they have a lot of students. The typical number of undergraduates at these campuses is around 21,000, with the University of Virginia (commonly known as UVA) on the low end at about 15,000. The total undergraduate, graduate, and professional student enrollment averages about 28,000 students, with UVA again at the low end with about 21,000. While these student bodies are smaller than the flagship campuses we looked at in the Great Lakes states, these campuses are still going to feel quite large to incoming freshmen.
Each campus, of course, has its own history, and I personally love to read about college histories. I could tell you stories about every college we mention. But I would be remiss, on this occasion, if I didn’t offer you at least a brief recounting of the founding of UVA (as quoted from the website):
Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819. He wished the publicly supported school to have a national character and stature. Jefferson envisioned a new kind of university, one dedicated to educating leaders in practical affairs and public service rather than for professions in the classroom and pulpit exclusively. It was the first nonsectarian university in the United States and the first to use the elective course system.
Jefferson considered the founding of the University to be one of his greatest achievements. Undertaking the project toward the end of his life—after a long, illustrious career that included serving as a colonial revolutionary, political leader, writer, architect, inventor, and horticulturalist—he was closely involved in the University’s design. He planned the curriculum, recruited the first faculty, and designed the Academical Village, a terraced green space surrounded by residential and academic buildings, gardens, and the majestic center-point—the Rotunda. The most recognizable symbol of the University, the Rotunda stands at the north end of the Lawn and is half the height and width of the Pantheon in Rome, which was the primary inspiration for the building. The Lawn and the Rotunda have served as models for similar designs of “centralized green areas” at universities across the United States.
If you have not seen Thomas Jefferson’s campus in Charlottesville, it is truly lovely—like a picture postcard of a university, with its red brick buildings and white columns. But I don’t want to overemphasize UVA, because I feel that it is one of the harder flagship universities to get into from out of state—both because of its smaller size and its high standards. Ditto for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (commonly known as UNC).
These flagship universities have from 8 to 16 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and colleges—from liberal arts and sciences to every kind of career-related field you can imagine. Here are some of the more distinctive ones: UVA has the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy; UNC has the Gillings School of Global Public Health; The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has the College of Communication and Information; University of Kentucky has the College of Design; West Virginia University has the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences; and the University of Arkansas has the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, which is named, obviously, for J. William Fulbright, former university president and longtime U.S. senator from Arkansas, who introduced the legislation that set up the well-known Fulbright scholarships for U.S. and foreign scholars.
When we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last month, we had a nice chat with Christie Banks, an Admissions Counselor at the University of Tennessee, who did a quick audio pitch for our listeners. So, take it away, Christie. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode. Christie mentions the VIP page for prospective students, which can be accessed here.)
These flagship universities offer from about 75 to 175 undergraduate majors across their numerous undergraduate colleges and schools—truly something for everyone.
Like other large universities, each one has many student clubs and organizations and many men’s and women’s varsity sports teams (plus club sports and intramurals). Sports are a bigger part of college life on some of these campuses than others—for example, with basketball teams at Kentucky and UVA ranking in everyone’s top 10 in 2015 (and with UNC not far behind).
Speaking of Kentucky, when we attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last month, we spoke with Cara Franke, a University of Kentucky recruiter for parts of Kentucky plus the New England and Mid-Atlantic states. Cara, a Lexington native, did the following audio pitch for her alma mater for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode. Cara mentions the online virtual tour of the University of Kentucky campus, which is available here.)
Each of these six flagship universities is well enough known to attract students from many states and foreign countries, but most of the undergraduate students attending these campuses are home grown—ranging from about half of the students at West Virginia to about 85 percent of the students at Tennessee. For some of the universities, that could mean that a solid application from outside of the state would be viewed with interest, and your child could likely get a great education at a cost lower than at a private school in your home state—that is, before any financial aid package is figured in. More important, as we said in an earlier episode, these six flagship universities are better academically and more widely recognized than many private colleges in the U.S., and there is no prestige in attending a private college that is not as good as a great public university.
3. Other Public State Universities
In these six Northern Southeast states, there are also other public universities—some are branches of the flagship campus, but others are universities in their own right. Interestingly, each state has at least one public university designated as one of our nation’s HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities).
Virginia has a number of public universities that are well known outside the state, starting with the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg in southwest Virginia (commonly known today as Virginia Tech, though it was known as V.P.I. some years ago before the legislature changed its name), which offers about 90 undergraduate majors in seven undergraduate colleges to about 24,000 undergraduates, about 70 percent of whom are Virginia residents. With a large total enrollment of about 31,000 students, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland are four of the top five home states for out-of-state students.
Other large and well-known public universities in Virginia include George Mason University, Old Dominion University, and Virginia Commonwealth University—with total enrollments from about 24,000 to 32,000 students.
But perhaps the most respected public university in Virginia is actually one that doesn’t sound public, and that is the College of William & Mary, located in Williamsburg. The second oldest college in the U.S., William & Mary was chartered by King William III and Queen Mary II in 1693 in the Virginia Colony. The college cut its ties with England in 1775 and became state supported in 1903 (and coeducational in 1918). Unlike most public universities, William & Mary is small—just about 6,000 undergraduates and 2,000 graduate students. Even so, its has over 400 student organizations. Students at William & Mary are smart and accomplished, and it is quite selective in admitting students. But, if you have the high school record to go, it is a fantastic education at a public price for Virginia students—though out-of-state students are going to be paying private college tuition rates to attend (about $35,000 a year currently). William & Mary is proud of its “firsts,” including the first Greek-letter society (Phi Beta Kappa, founded in 1776), the first student honor code, the first college to become a university, and the first law school in America.
Going from smallest to biggest, let’s take a quick look in North Carolina at North Carolina State University in Raleigh—not too far from UNC at Chapel Hill. NC State is actually the largest higher education institution in the state, serving a total of about 34,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in 12 colleges, including the College of Textiles and the College of Natural Resources among all the usual choices. NC State offers its 24,000 undergraduate students over 100 majors and 700 student organizations to choose from. Engineering was the top declared major of incoming freshmen last year. The average high school GPA of these incoming freshmen was a 3.66, with SAT scores in math and reading of 1248—good grades and scores for such a large university. Just as with Virginia Tech, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland are four of the top five home states for out-of-state students.
And before leaving North Carolina, let us say a word about the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, one of 17 campuses of the University of North Carolina and located in Winston-Salem. The UNC School of the Arts is a well known and respected institution among those in the arts world. It offers high school diplomas as well as undergraduate and graduate degrees. Undergraduate students can earn degrees in dance, design and production (includes visual arts), drama, filmmaking, and music. As with all fine arts schools, there is a rigorous interview and/or audition process for admitting its approximately 850 undergraduates—about half in-state and half out-of-state students.
Before leaving public universities in this region, let’s take a quick look at just some of the public HBCUs in these states. (For more about HBCUs, see our show notes from our last episode, Episode 30.) They are smaller—sometimes quite a bit smaller—than most of the other public universities in their own states and typically draw more students from their home states, but they do offer a cultural experience for students and a campus history that is different from what other public universities offer. West Virginia State University, located in Institute, West Virginia, a suburb of the capital of Charleston, offers about 20 majors to its 2,800 undergraduate students (the slight majority of whom are now white). Kentucky State University, located in the state capital of Frankfort, offers 24 bachelor’s degree majors to its 1,800 undergraduate students (about three-quarters of whom are black).
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers more than 30 majors across its four academic schools—including the School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences—to about 2,300 undergraduate students; about 90 percent of UAPB students are black, and about 65 percent are Arkansas residents. Both Virginia State University, located about 20 minutes south of the capital of Richmond in the village of Ettrick, and Norfolk State University, located in Norfolk, offer majors across five or six undergraduate schools and colleges to about 4,500 undergraduates (about 80 percent of their students are black, and about 80 percent are Virginia residents).
Tennessee State University, located on two campuses in Nashville, offers 45 bachelor’s degree programs across seven undergraduate colleges and schools—including the College of Public Service and Urban Affairs—to its 7,100 undergraduate students (it has another 2,000 graduate students); it merged with the University of Tennessee at Nashville in 1979 to form a new institution serving students of all races, though its current student body is about 70 percent black.
North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, located in Greensboro, offers 55 degrees through seven schools and colleges to about 9,000 undergraduate students (there are another 1,500 graduate students). NC A&T’s students are about 75 percent black, and about 80 percent are North Carolina residents. Winston-Salem State University, Fayetteville State University, and North Carolina Central University in Durham all serve about 6,000 undergraduates. Their student bodies range from about 65 to 80 percent black, and about 90 percent of their students are North Carolina residents. Though smaller than many other public universities in North Carolina, they have some unique programs. For example, Winston-Salem has a bachelor’s degree in Motorsports Management, and NC Central offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Jazz Studies and is the only HBCU in the nation with a School of Library and Information Sciences.
As we have said before, all of these public universities (and there are even more in these states than those we mentioned here) would cost an out-of-state student more than a public university in his or her own state, but less than most private colleges. So, consider looking at public universities beyond just the flagship university, for the special programs or the appealing locations or the sense of history and tradition that they offer.
Listen to the podcast to find out about…
- The University of Kentucky firsthand
- The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, firsthand
- A wealth of public HBCUs
Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…
Outside of New York State
- College of William & Mary (Virginia)
- Fayetteville State University (North Carolina)
- George Mason University (Virginia)
- Hampton University (Virginia)
- Kentucky State University
- National Association for College Admission Counseling
- Norfolk State University (Virginia)
- North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University
- North Carolina Central University, including the School of Library and Information Sciences
- North Carolina State University, including the College of Natural Resources and the College of Textiles
- Old Dominion University (Virginia)
- Tennessee State University, including the College of Public Service and Urban Affairs
- University of Arkansas, including the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
- University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, including the School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
- University of Kentucky, including the College of Design
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, including the Gillings School of Global Public Health
- University of North Carolina School of the Arts
- University of Tennessee, Knoxville, including the College of Communication and Information
- University of Virginia, including the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy
- Virginia Commonwealth University
- Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
- Virginia State University
- West Virginia State University
- West Virginia University, including the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences
- Winston-Salem State University (North Carolina)
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