Head of the Class

During a press conference last week, UVA President Teresa Sullivan introduced the school’s newest recruits to the public. Of the 3,450 first year students, 67 percent come from Virginia, 91 percent were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes, and they averaged 1,339 on their SATs. 

UVA President Teresa Sullivan

“This is the strongest academic class that we have admitted, as measured by their standardized test scores and their class rank,” Sullivan said.

In spite of the fact that the University’s state funding has dropped to around 10 percent of its academic operating budget and is less than one-third of what is provided at nearby flagship UNC-Chapel Hill, UVA is still ranked among the top public universities in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and others.

Sullivan said the school’s adherence to its founder’s vision, which emphasizes the role of student/faculty engagement, is still one of its main attractions.

“I think the academical village is one of the huge attractions for people to the University of Virginia and I take it as, literally, one of the gems that we have to preserve, but I also take it figuratively as a sign of a model of education that Jefferson believed to be best in which faculty and students worked in close proximity to each other,” Sullivan said.

Other reasons for the University’s continued prominence are its $5 billion endowment and its consistent ability to raise money from private donors. The College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, UVA’s largest school,  received $41.7 million from alumni, parents, and friends in 2010-11** and the University has raised over $2.4 billion thus far in its most recent capital campaign.

When she took over as president, Sullivan prioritized hiring a new leadership team, a job she finished this past week by naming Duke chemist John Simon as executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. Simon joins brand new Chief Operating Officer Michael Strine, who came from Johns Hopkins University during the summer.

UVA first years at a glance
Total students (projected): 3,450
Avg. SAT total: 1,339
In-state: 2,298 or 67 percent
Out-of-state: 1,152 or 33 percent
Top 10 percent in class: 91 percent
International students: 230
Virginia community college transfers: 325
Students on financial aid: 1,125
Total tuition cost for in-state students: $22,543

During an interview in July, Sullivan talked about the challenges facing her team. First among them is the state’s insistence that the University grow its enrollment to accommodate more students from northern Virginia and to produce more graduates in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.

Sullivan sees the initiative as an unfunded mandate, but the threat of a cap on out-of-state students has driven the University to meet the demand.

“The state will not be able to increase its enrollment of science and engineering students without more science and engineering faculty, and the bottleneck for us is the ability to equip laboratories that those faculty need to conduct their teaching and research,” Sullivan said.

Faculty at UVA has gone three years without raises, and Sullivan said faculty recruitment and retention will be another fundamental challenge in coming years if the school intends to maintain its status as one of the elite public universities in the nation. 

Meredith Woo*, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, anticipates the need for 63 new professors in her area to meet the enrollment growth targets through 2018-19. 

Sullivan, Simon and Strine all addressed the need to control costs and create efficiencies during their press conference last week, using language that sounded more corporate than Jeffersonian.

“We are constantly looking for opportunities to control costs, increase savings, and improve efficiency. Our areas of focus so far have included streamlining processes, consolidating units and positions, automating functions, creating shared services and resources, conserving energy, and studying best practices in other industries and our higher education peers. This year we will come through the University once again to look for additional savings opportunities,” Sullivan said.

As a new first year class arrived on Grounds, Simon urged it to help redefine the way learning happens in the information age.

“I think technology has democratized knowledge, and in universities today the opportunity that exists is almost redefining or rethinking the student/faculty relationship and how we work together to create knowledge. How you learn,” he said.

 *An earlier version of this story included an incorrect spelling [Wu] of Meredith Woo’s name.

**An earlier version of this story said the University raised $41.7 million in new commitments in 2010-11; that number properly refers to commitments to the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

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