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Virginia State University sees 30-year high enrollment increase

A directory sign points to various buildings on Virginia State University's campus
Crixell Matthews
Enrollment at Virginia State University in Petersburg increased more than 8% since last year, bucking national trends. (File photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

College enrollment is down nationally, but Virginia State University is seeing its highest enrollment numbers in three decades. 

The historically Black university located in Petersburg grew by about 350 students this fall for a total enrollment of more than 4,600. That’s an increase of more than 8% since 2021 and the single largest year-to-year increase in more than a decade.

Curtis Coleman, executive director of admissions, credited aggressive recruitment and an expansion of programs and offerings.  

“Alumni can see that when they came back for homecoming,” he said. “The excitement was there just to see the campus transformed into something different from the past decade.” 

Coleman also credited the school’s affordability for the surge in enrollment; the majority of VSU students are eligible for Pell Grants. 

VSU broke ground this spring on the largest academic building ever constructed on campus, which will include high-tech classrooms, a movie theater and an Olympic-sized swimming pool. 

The Trojans also added women's soccer, as well as men’s and women's lacrosse teams this year. And the school recently launched a master’s program in social work.  

As a result of increasing tuition assistance, the computer science and engineering programs also have increased in size. Alexis Brooks-Walter, associate vice provost for enrollment management, said almost half the freshman class is studying a STEM field.  

Brooks-Walter recognized this past spring that enrollment would be high, so she said VSU hired more than 100 additional adjunct faculty members to prepare.  

“So, the academic units were prepared, financial aid was able to package all the students in a timely manner, because actually enrolling in school and paying for school is very important,” she said. “Financial aid was on board, ... . So, it was a wonderful windfall.” 

Increasing enrollment at historically Black colleges and universities have been tallied in Virginia. And NPR has reported numbers are up across the country, citing high-profile graduates and the most recent racial justice movement.  

Between 2018 and 2021, applications to historically Black colleges and universities increased about 30%.  

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.