Lincoln Wilcox · September 7, 2017
After growing nearly 40 percent during the last four years, Southern Virginia University enrollment has increased to 928 students, the largest total in the University’s 21-year history. Students this year hail from 49 states, one U.S. territory and six countries.
“This fall enrollment at Southern Virginia will grow another 15 percent over last year, up almost 40 percent since 2013-14,” Southern Virginia University President Reed N. Wilcox reported last month in an open letter to the university community. “Southern Virginia is one of the fastest growing residential colleges in the U.S.”
President Wilcox said that the University’s leadership hopes to continue to increase the number of students over the next few years, aiming for a student body large enough to fully utilize the University’s facilities while continuing to fulfill its concept of producing leader-servants in a personalized educational environment.
Around the country, universities, and especially liberal arts colleges, have struggled as national enrollment levels have dropped each of the last five years. But even as low enrollment and lack of demand have left many schools struggling to keep their doors open, Southern Virginia is experiencing a moment of unprecedented growth.
“[It is] based on a welcoming culture of faith, acceptance and friendliness – along with excellence in academics,” said President Wilcox. “We have…the highest levels of participation in NCAA athletics and university-level performing arts, the highest reported placement rates for graduates, and the highest [percentage] of voluntary attendance in Institute or religion classes among the [Latter-day Saint]-centered schools.”
Students echoed President Wilcox’s statements, highlighting the draw of participation in individualized academic and extracurricular opportunities at Southern Virginia.
“It’s not uncommon for professors to come up to you and say, ‘Hi, I want you to be my teaching assistant,’ or, ‘I think you should apply for this job,’” said Jessica Brotherson, a senior studying Spanish and biology. “Because its smaller, I think people just get opportunities here that wouldn’t get at other schools; people are attracted to the opportunity to grow here.”
“This was an opportunity for me to come and play [football], as well as be in a Latter-day Saint environment,” said Seth Hanson, a senior studying politics, and a running back on the University’s football team. “And, I feel like [my professors] are genuinely working with me, not talking at me. They just want to help you. And I’ve gotten that from a lot of different professors.”
Glade Knight, the founding board member of Southern Virginia, has watched the University grow for more than two decades. He reflected on his first visit to the University’s iconic Main Hall as he welcomed students during new student orientation.
“As I stood in that hall, this flood of warmth came over me, and the feeling was that someday, that hall would be filled with Latter-day Saint students, and I couldn’t deny it,” Knight recalled, his voice quivering with emotion. “Within 60 days, we took over the University and welcomed [our first class of] 70-plus students.”
Twenty-one years since Knight’s first visit to campus, he watched hundreds of students flood through the doors of Main Hall as his vision continues to be fulfilled. The small town of Buena Vista, Va. has become the largest gathering point for Latter-day Saint college students East of the Rocky Mountains.