To help our thinking and planning, our esteemed Board Member and Secretary, Ed Murdy, put together an analysis of how publicly supported colleges and universities in Virginia got their start. Quite a few of them got started as spin-offs from older institutions. This may be how Shore U gets it start. Maybe as branch of VA Tech? Or another institution not in Virginia?

Origins of Publicly Supported Colleges and Universities in Virginia

The following information was compiled in order to understand how the 15 publicly supported colleges and universities in Virginia were established. This summary will help the University of the Eastern Shore Foundation in its quest to launch a new four-year school on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

Two of the 15 public colleges and universities in Virginia (see list below) have a long history. The College of William and Mary (W&M) was created by royal charter in 1693 and was one of the original Colonial colleges. It fulfilled an early colonial vision to construct a university level program modeled after Cambridge and Oxford. The second oldest four-year school in Virginia, The University of Virginia (UVA), was the brainchild of Thomas Jefferson who wrote that the new university would be "on the most extensive and liberal scale that our circumstances would call for and our faculties meet," and that it might even attract talented students from "other states to come, and drink of the cup of knowledge". It was chartered by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1819.

Schools that were Branch Campuses of UVA or W&M

  • UVA - George Mason University, University of Mary Washington, The University of Virginia’s College at Wise

  • W&M - Christopher Newport University, Old Dominion University, Virginia Commonwealth University

George Mason University (GMU) - The future GMU was initially founded as an extension center of UVA in 1949 and offered both for-credit and non-credit informal classes in the evenings in the Vocational Building of the Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, at schools in Alexandria, Fairfax, and Prince William counties, at federal buildings, at churches, at the Virginia Theological Seminary, and at the Marine Corps Base Quantico, and even in a few private homes. A resolution of the Virginia General Assembly in January 1956 changed the extension center into University College, the Northern Virginia branch of the University of Virginia.

Seventeen freshmen students attended classes at University College in a small, renovated elementary school building in Bailey's Crossroads starting in September 1957. In 1958, University College became George Mason College. The City of Fairfax purchased and donated 150 acres to the University of Virginia for the college's new site, which is now referred to as the Fairfax Campus. In 1959, the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia selected a permanent name for the college: George Mason College of the University of Virginia. In 1972, the Virginia General Assembly separated George Mason College from UVA and renamed it George Mason University.

University of Mary Washington (UMW)- UMW was founded in 1908 as the Fredericksburg Teachers College and was renamed Mary Washington College in 1938. In 1944, the college became associated with the University of Virginia as its women's college. Until that time, the University of Virginia had not admitted women as undergraduates, except in its education and nursing programs, although its postgraduate programs were coeducational. Following UVA's transition to coeducational status in 1970, the Virginia General Assembly reorganized Mary Washington College in 1972 as a separate, coeducational institution. The General Assembly of Virginia enacted legislation changing the college's name to University of Mary Washington on March 19, 2004, to reflect the addition of master's degree programs.

The University of Virginia’s College at Wise (UVA-Wise)- The University of Virginia’s College at Wise began as a two-year branch campus of UVA. The college was first conceived by local residents who petitioned the University of Virginia to establish a college in Wise. As support for a college grew, the Commonwealth of Virginia appropriated $5,000 to open, staff, and operate the college as a two-year junior college on a trial basis for a year; and if successful, another $5,000 would be available for a second year. In the winter of 1954, the local community matched the commonwealth's funds and collected over $6,000 to furnish the classrooms and pay for supplies. Wise County donated over 400 acres of property that included two sandstone buildings. The school was named Clinch Valley College of the University of Virginia and it opened in September 1954 with an enrollment of 100 freshmen.

Clinch Valley College became the westernmost state-supported college in Virginia. Prior to its opening, Virginia lacked public colleges west of Radford. Clinch Valley College operated as a junior college throughout the late 1950s and 1960s. During that time, the college gained more support from graduates who wanted to complete their baccalaureate degrees at the same institution and the college began the process to become a four-year college. In June 1970, Clinch Valley College granted its first Bachelor of Arts degrees; followed by Bachelor of Science degrees, first awarded in 1973. The college continued to grow and added new programs such as nursing and technology and in 1996, the college granted its first Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees. In 1999, the Virginia General Assembly renamed the school The University of Virginia's College at Wise. UVA-Wise currently offers more than 30 majors and about two dozen teaching specialties with an enrollment of more than 2,200 students.

Christopher Newport University (CNU) - In 1960, the city of Newport News joined together with the Commonwealth of Virginia to create Christopher Newport College (CNC), which opened its doors in 1961 and was located in an abandoned school building. The college was founded as a two-year branch campus of W&M. In 1964, the college was relocated to its current location, a 75-acre tract of land purchased and donated by the city. In 1971, CNC became a four-year college; however, it remained an extension of W&M until 1977 when it attained its independence. In 1992, the college became a university.

Old Dominion University (ODU) - The future ODU began as a two-year branch division of W&M established in 1930. On September 12, 1930, the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary held its first class with 206 students (125 men and 81 women) in the old Larchmont School building, which was an abandoned elementary school on Hampton Boulevard. The following September, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, more commonly known as Virginia Tech, began offering classes at "The Division", expanding the number of courses taught. Created in the first year of the Great Depression, the college benefited from federal funding as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Through its defense and training classes, the Norfolk Division contributed to the war effort. The program also allowed the school to remain open during a period when most young men were serving their country. The program attracted many women, who learned aircraft repair, drafting, and other war-related subjects. In 1962, the General Assembly granted the Norfolk Division its independence from W&M and renamed it Old Dominion College. In 1969, Old Dominion College transitioned to Old Dominion University.

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) - Part of VCU traces its roots back to 1917, when it began as the Richmond School of Social Work and Public Health. In 1925, it became the Richmond Division of The College of William & Mary. In 1939, this Division became the Richmond Professional Institute of The College of William & Mary (RPI). In 1962, RPI separated from William & Mary to become an independent state institution. Then, in 1968, state legislation merged the Medical College of Virginia (MCV) and RPI to become Virginia Commonwealth University. VCU claims 1838 as its founding date on its official seal and on promotional materials; MCV was founded in 1838 as the medical department of Hampden–Sydney College.

Schools that Began as Colleges for Women

  • James Madison University

  • Longwood University

  • Radford University

James Madison University (JMU) - Founded in 1908 as a women's college, JMU was established by the Virginia General Assembly. It was originally called the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg. In 1914, the name of the university was changed to the State Normal School for Women at Harrisonburg. At first, academic offerings included only today's equivalent of technical training or junior college courses, however, authorization to award bachelor's degrees was granted in 1916. During this initial period of development, the campus plan was established and six buildings were constructed. The university became the State Teachers College at Harrisonburg in 1924 and continued under that name until 1938, when it was named Madison College in honor of President James Madison, whose Montpelier estate is located in nearby Orange, Virginia. In 1976, the university's name was changed to James Madison University.

Longwood University (LU) - LU was originally founded as the Farmville Female Seminary Association in 1839. In the decade following the Civil War, Farmville Female College, as the institution was then known, fell into a period of deep financial difficulty and had to shutter their doors. The college was given new life in 1875, with a new charter granted and the college renamed Farmville College. Enrollment grew by nearly half, topping 100 students in 1876. Farmville College was reinvented once again in 1884 as the State Female Normal School. Two more name changes soon followed—State Normal School for Women (1914) and State Teachers College (1924). The college purchased in 1928 the nearby estate of the Longwood House, which would become the namesake of the institution in years to come. With an expanding curriculum and growing class sizes, State Teachers College was renamed a penultimate time to Longwood College. Longwood—with a focus still very much on teacher preparation—expanded its academic degrees, and in 1954 was authorized to issue graduate diplomas. In 1968, Longwood College began to admit male summer school transfers, and then junior and senior transfers in 1971. Men were admitted as day students in 1973, by order of the Virginia Department of Education until Longwood went fully coeducational in 1976. Virginia Governor Mark Warner signed legislation designating Longwood a university on April 2, 2002. Since becoming a university, Longwood has expanded its physical campus and academic offerings.

Radford University (RU) - The State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Radford was founded as a women's college in 1910. In 1924, the school was renamed the State Teachers College at Radford, with the primary intent of training teachers in the Appalachian region. In 1943, as part of the state's consolidation movement, the college merged with the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in nearby Blacksburg, serving as the larger university's women's campus. The merger dissolved in 1964, and following a period of sustained and significant growth, Radford College was granted university status in 1979. In 2008, the Virginia General Assembly authorized three doctoral programs at RU, and the first doctoral degrees were awarded in 2011.

Former and Current Military Schools

  • Virginia Military Institute

  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Virginia Military Institute (VMI) - In the years after the War of 1812, the Commonwealth of Virginia built and maintained several arsenals to store weapons intended for use by the state militia in the event of invasion or slave revolt. In the 1830s, a local group decided that the arsenal in Lexington could be put to better use as a normal school for providing education on practical subjects, as well as military training to individuals who could be expected to serve as officers in the militia if needed. In 1836, the Virginia legislature passed a bill authorizing creation of a school at the Lexington arsenal, the Governor signed the measure into law and the Virginia Military Institute was created. Classes began in 1839 and The Class of 1842 graduated 16 cadets.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VT) - In 1872, the Virginia General Assembly purchased the facilities of Preston and Olin Institute, a small Methodist school in Southwest Virginia's rural Montgomery County. That same year, 250 acres including a house and several farm buildings were acquired. The commonwealth incorporated a new institution on the site, a state-supported, land-grant, military institute named Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College. From 1891–1907, the school organized its academic programs into a traditional four-year college and a graduate department was founded. The evolution of the school's programs led to a name change in 1896 to Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute. The "Agricultural and Mechanical College" portion of the name was popularly omitted almost immediately; in 1944, the name was officially changed to Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI). In 1923, VPI changed a policy of compulsory participation in the Corps of Cadets from four years to two years. In 1931, VPI began teaching classes at the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary (now Old Dominion University). This program eventually developed into a two-year engineering program that allowed students to transfer to VPI for their final two years of degree work. In 1943, VPI merged with nearby Radford State Teachers College, which became VPI's women's division; the merger was dissolved in 1964. In 1970, the state legislature allowed VPI university status and gave it the present legal name, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities

  • Norfolk State University

  • Virginia State University

Norfolk State University (NSU) - Norfolk State University began in 1935 as the Norfolk Unit of Virginia Union University. Eighty-five students attended the first classes held in 1935. In 1942, the school became independent and was named Norfolk Polytechnic College. Within two years, by an act of the Virginia Legislature, it became a part of Virginia State College (now Virginia State University). By 1950, the faculty had grown to 50 and the student enrollment was more than 1,000. The City of Norfolk provided a permanent site for the college on Corprew Avenue and in 1955, Brown Hall opened as the first permanent building on the new campus. In 1956, the future Norfolk State College granted its first bachelor's degrees. In 1969, the college separated from Virginia State College and was named Norfolk State College. When the college was granted university status in 1979 by the General Assembly of Virginia, it changed its name to Norfolk State University.

Virginia State University (VSU) - VSU was founded on March 6, 1882, when the legislature passed a bill to charter the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute. The bill was sponsored by a black attorney who lived in and represented Dinwiddie County in the General Assembly. In 1902, the legislature revised the charter act to curtail the collegiate program and to change the name to Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute. In 1920, the land-grant program for African-Americans was moved from a private school, Hampton Institute, where it had been since 1872, to Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute. In 1923, the college program was restored, and the name was changed to Virginia State College for Negroes in 1930. A two-year branch in Norfolk was added to the college in 1944; the Norfolk division became a four-year branch in 1956 and gained independence as Norfolk State College in 1969. Meanwhile, the parent school was renamed Virginia State College in 1946. The legislature passed a law in 1979 to provide the present name, Virginia State University.

Virginia’s Public Colleges and Universities

Terry MalarkeyComment