Sometimes quality is greater than any quantity.
Over the past 10 years, VCU’s student population has surged, increasing 35 percent over the past 10 years according to university figures. While this is great news in some ways, it precisely defines one of the greatest challenges the university faces: the quality of education is lagging behind the number of students that are being admitted.
Now, I will say that VCU holds two academic leads over every other university in Virginia. We are the sole performing and fine arts superpower in Virginia having one of the best arts schools in the country, and we have the leading medical campus in the commonwealth.
In terms of the student body, if anyone were to walk from West Franklin Street through campus to Main Street, they would not help but notice the unparalleled diversity. Everyone is here: whites, blacks, Asians, Indians, Latinos, jocks, skaters, hipsters, guidos, preps, Ugg Boot blondes, surfers, bros, potheads, musicians, artists, gays, evangelicals, Muslims, Africans, Arabs, Europeans, the list goes on.
However, despite all of these great qualities and while we have been growing this distinct crop of students, VCU seems to have a problem in attracting another kind of student, precisely those that chose to attend Virginia Tech, James Madison, George Mason or Virginia instead; particularly those that made these their first choices.
Well, what kinds of students go to these other universities? It is fair to say that the reputation a university garners attracts students with a similar persona. UVA attracts snobs, James Madison attracts party animals and VCU attracts hipsters. This is how it has been and how it will be. But, there is something else at play here and, unfortunately, it partially comes down to grades.
According to College Board, VCU is actually more selective than Virginia Tech by 19 percentage points based on the number of applicants admitted. The catch, of course, is that according to the same set of data 89 percent of Virginia Tech’s incoming freshman held a 3.5 GPA or higher. That figure for VCU is sits at 40 percent.
This means that Virginia Tech is not only admitting students with higher GPAs, but students with higher GPAs are applying in significantly greater volume than VCU.
I’m not one to give much of any credence to the accuracy of the grade point average, but the mainstream of academia does. While I and nobody else should blindly believe that a VCU student couldn’t compete academically or intellectually with a Virginia Tech student, if VCU wants to start surging in more than just student population, it must raise its standards for admission. However, this cannot be done before a cap is placed on admissions acceptances and greater effort and resources are placed in continuing to advance our various schools of study instead of spreading them thin and overwhelmingly them with overcrowded classrooms.
It is rare that I talk to students, especially non-arts ones, and hear that VCU was their absolute first choice. The university is typically dead last. On top of that, many transfer from community colleges after taking the required 30 transferable credits, about one academic year’s worth of courses. Other universities like James Madison typically do not accept students before completing two years at a community college.
Even if VCU raises its admissions standards, how will it get students with marginally higher grade point averages to attend VCU, but more so to live in Richmond? If anyone were here 10 years ago, they would acknowledge that Richmond has come a long way in terms of eradicating crime and beautifying the city into a hip urban setting, not as it was once known to be “one of America’s most dangerous cities.” Despite this, college applicants are not buying into Richmond thus VCU, despite the great changes it has endured.
Maybe a greater barrier in getting more academically diverse students to attend VCU lies in a stronger public relations outreach. That can imply anything from lobbying high schools to, yes, establishing a football team – not to mention the reemergence of this whole hipster subculture the youth have going on.
Closer to the end of my senior year in high school, our newspaper published an issue that listed where each senior would be attending in the fall. Virginia Tech had expectedly garnered more students after the shootings and James Madison always attracted over a dozen of who were prone to parties. VCU, however, had no more than a half dozen students, most of who were involved in the arts.
VCU ought to focus more on what it can do to attract more applicants to its campus. Most of that will certainly include cooperating with the city of Richmond to prove that the city holds greater opportunities in various fields of studying from business to engineering to public policy and that an urban university can attract more students than of whom VCU is accustomed.